This year, 2017, marks the 40th anniversary of Paul Weller’s first album, In The City, which he released with The Jam in May 1977. For most artists such a landmark would be greeted with extensive retrospective celebrations: lavish reissues, commemorative tours of the original album. All that jazz. But Paul Weller is not like most artists.
Instead, Paul Weller will mark his 40th anniversary of recording albums by releasing a new studio album, almost bang on the anniversary date in May, because releasing new albums is what Paul Weller does. He powers forwards, always, almost clinically averse to nostalgia or checking his progress in the rear-view mirror.
“It’s not about looking back,” he explains in the garden behind his Black Barn Studios in Surrey, where he made his 25th studio album, A Kind Revolution. “It’s about leaving a legacy, it’s about creating. Because there’s not much time left. It goes so quickly. Writing, recording, playing - that’s how I communicate best.”
It’s hard to think of many artists who average the same number of albums, better than one new studio album every two years for 40 years - let alone any who have maintained the same level of quality throughout. To maintain that average, Weller started work on A Kind Revolution immediately after finishing 2015’s Saturns Pattern, first tickling out the funky strut of New York and the beautiful slow-mo gospel of The Cranes Are Back - a song that ties in the changing face of London with the power of nature. Both themes have been constants in his writing through his life and are tied together here wonderfully.
From there, Weller and his two key recording colleagues, drummer Ben Gordelier and Andy Crofts (guitars/keys), set about sequencing the rest of the album as Weller wrote it. “That’s how I like doing it now,” he explains. “We work out what’s missing from the journey through the album as we go along and try to fill the gaps with the right kind of song next. It gives the album a much better shape than if you write a load of songs and then try to force them to rub up against each other.” A good example is Satellite Kid. “I just felt that the second to last song needed to have that kind of long, blues-rock vibe after New York and One Tear, to snap the listener back. So we wrote one!”
Satellite Kid features the talents of The Strypes' Josh McClorey on guitar - reprising a guest role he also assumed on Saturns Pattern - while the aforementioned One Tear welcomes Boy George to its intro, before setting flight on another brilliantly imaginative dance floor inspired number, blending an organic house groove with soul and disco vibes. “George came down here,” says Weller, pointing to Black Barn. “And he’s such a great singer, I’ve always loved his voice. He seems to have improved with time. He was just what that song needed.”
Another very familiar vocal visitor to A Kind Revolution is Robert Wyatt, whom Weller coaxed from retirement to add his distinctive singing and trumpet to the pastoral funk of She Moves With The Fayre. “I just called him and asked him,” says Weller, laughing. “Again, it was simply a case of me wondering what the song most needed and, luckily, Robert said yes. So someone drove up to see him and recorded him for it. Nobody sounds like him, do they?”
Other cameos include 60s soul sirens PP Arnold and Madeline Bell, who make their mark on the opening R&B shakedown Woo Sé Mama, but wonderful as all the guest contributors are to A Kind Revolution, none overshadow the whole. All just add touches of shade and light to ten absolute classic modern Paul Weller songs. By “modern Paul Weller songs” we mean, instantly recognisable but in no way predictable. He doesn’t make a “kind of” album, he fits together all his influences - rock, R&B, soul, jazz, funk, folk…whatever - and builds a song from them, delivering something that drifts through genres unselfconsciously and at ease. Two great examples of this are two of the most reflective, contemplative songs, Long Long Road and Hopper, which in lesser hands might have been delivered as ballads, but Weller adds so much texture and colour to each that they defy categorisation. With great age comes great wisdom…
And as for that title? Self-explanatory, silly. “The world needs to change, but can it?” he says. “It’s terrible now, but change can’t come through violence or force. There’s too much of that already. It’s got to be something spiritual, a collective awakening. You’ve got to hope for that, don’t you?”
In the meantime, however, Paul Weller already has another album largely written, an album which he hopes to have ready for his 60th, next May. “It’ll be acoustic, with some orchestration,” he promises. There’ll be no resting on the laurels of a classic 25th album. “There can’t be any hanging around, there’s always so much more to do, to create and to leave behind. I’m so aware of the passing of time. I always have been.”
No looking back. No hanging about. The arch modernist keeps his eyes on the horizon, always.
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