Since the first single by The Jam in 1977, Paul Weller hasn’t let more than three years pass between releases. From that initial bark of In The City aged 19, through The Style Council days and across three decades of his solo career, Weller has, despite a few wilderness years in the early ’90s, maintained an uncompromising presence, even if the sonic output has varied in quality.
His fifteenth record is a refined distillation of the last few years of Weller’s career, through the neo-psych and funk soul miscellanea of ‘Saturns Pattern’ and ‘A Kind Revolution’ and 2018’s acoustic-leaning ‘True Meanings’. A soul man at the core, it’s heartening these days to see Weller embrace what he does best and leave the by-numbers stompers aside, for the time being at least.
With a piano flourish, a choir, and an electronic swirl that pulses and percolates over eight minutes beneath Weller’s vocal, opener Mirror Ball is playfully stitched together with an interlude of ambient synth effects and crowd noise; a crack of the knuckles and a musical muscle flex in preparation for what lies ahead.
The spirit of Curtis Mayfield, Serge Gainsbourg, and Stevie Wonder (“The sounds of soul spill through the air, lifting up our hearts”) is all over ‘On Sunset’, but also that of The Beatles, Bowie, Massive Attack, even. Earlier this year, Weller released an experimental 4-track instrumental EP called ‘In Another Room’ on UK electronic music label, Ghost Box, an atmospheric curio that calls to mind the diversions of Pop Art Poem, one of The Jam’s more esoteric ‘Sound Affects’ cast-offs.
Earth Beat, the first single to be released from ‘On Sunset’, is a statement piece as much as anything else, the most overtly electronic track on a record that sees Weller dabble more assuredly than ever before in that realm, featuring The Staves and London rapper, Col3trane. The album leans heavily on collaboration. Hannah Peel returns after writing the orchestration for ‘True Meanings’, here guiding the strings of Bristol’s Paraorchestra. Completing the roster are The Style Council’s Mick Talbot and Weller’s perennial sideman, Steve Craddock, house band Ben Gordelier and Andy Crofts, Le Superhomard’s Julie Gros, The Strypes’ guitarist Josh McClorey, and Slade’s Jim Lea.
Whereas Gros and McClorey sink into the trippy, languid pace of More, Lea’s violin hops over the East-end music hall of Equanimity, light-hearted anglophonic psychedelia with a nod to Steve Marriot in the mockney inflections that drift in and out of Weller’s vocal. Talbot’s presence is unmistakeable on Village as Weller engages in some pastoral introspection. He said the album partly deals with the power of music and how it has affected his life, but alongside that there is contentment in the grooves; an appreciation of the simpler things – “The more we get, the more we lose.”
‘On Sunset’ is what Weller can come up with when he employs a lightness of touch and further opens the door to collaboration. It feels unforced, something on which he expends much love but little exertion. The man Noel Gallagher once called Victor Meldrew with a tan is making music to soothe his soul; a more sophisticated sound from a more reflective Weller.
Check out our Golden Vault retrospective of The Jam’s classic ‘Setting Sons’ record here.