An anchor to a certain musical style, and image more so, the Modfather moniker is a shackle Paul Weller will probably never fully cast off. He’s trying, though. Last year’s ‘On Sunset’ saw Weller settle into a more free-flowing style of writing and recording, inviting collaboration and displaying an altogether more reflective side of the former Jam frontman and Style Councillor.
As he enters the sixth decade of his career, Weller seems to be moving in a direction that is increasingly unlike what you might consider typical of his overall output in recent decades; a reversion to the rootsier traditions of Stax and Motown and homegrown heroes The Kinks and Small Faces.
His sixteenth solo album is a continuation of ‘On Sunset’s introspective tone. New ground is not being broken by any stretch of the imagination, but Weller again seems to be looking inwardly and keeping it simple. The results, when successful, are the well-crafted, pastoral vignettes at which he seems to be getting more adept.
He seems looser and freer in these songs, leaning increasingly towards orchestral manoeuvring and throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks. The results are hit and miss, but the worst that can be said is that a handful are simply pleasant but forgettable amid the more interesting numbers.
The front end of the record is the heavier, the fat pop, and the title track itself is one of the more striking; bass-heavy and with Weller channelling Cypress Hill and DJ Muggs, although he does rhyme “down” with “down” at one point. The collaborations this time are closer to home. Weller shares a writer’s credit and vocal with his daughter, Leah, and his longtime guitarist, Steve Cradock, on Shades of Blue and Still Glides The Stream respectively, one lightweight pop, the other a stately mid-tempo ballad.
The outsider vocal this time comes via The Mysterines’ Lia Metcalfe sparring with Weller throughout True, a glam rocker more indebted to Iggy Pop than Weller’s rhythmic tribute to the Stooges singer later in the album.
Certain of the tracks on ‘Fat Pop (Volume 1)’ are straight from the soul songwriting handbook. Lyrically, conceptually and with concise, clipped lyrical pronouncements and syncopated drums, the deep groove of Testify is nice to listen to but hardly a push for Weller, who has eaten, slept and breathed this music for a lifetime.
The overall feeling is of a disjointed record – a bit of a hodge-podge. There’s a lack of cohesion as Weller flits from the heavy electronic Cosmic Fringes to the acoustic ballads and funk-soul, beefed-up Style Council approach.
His previous album was a product of isolation and contemplation. Here, Weller is slowly emerging from lockdown and feeling out a new approach. It’s not quite fully formed but it all points to a new, still-evolving stage of his career, more textured and considered than before. Weller may well be about to embrace his Scott Walker phase with a prolific burst.
That this is entitled ‘Volume 1’ suggests either a red herring – Weller acting the bollix – or more likely, another batch of songs culled from the same period of writing as ‘On Sunset’ and the ensuing months. This might lead a speculator to hypothesise that one tight, cohesive album might have been a better prospect than two mixed bags. Idle speculation, though, let’s see what ‘Volume 2’ brings if and when it appears.