It’s seven in the morning. I’ve strapped on the headphones lest I wake up the neighborhood while getting my sonic kicks. Fat Pop (Volume I), Paul Weller’s second album in a year, is slick, synth, pop and rock ’n’ roll. It’s heavy soul. Strings, horns and guitars percolate through the grooves. It’s as if he poured all his inspirations and enjoyments into a vat, lit a fire beneath it and whisked everything into a tasty whole. In some respects, the set is somewhat akin to a stack of 45s dropping to the turntable one after the other, with the ever-changing moods unified by Weller’s ever-soulful vocals.
The album came about due to the pandemic. When his plans to tour behind On Sunset were shelved, he retreated into his Black Barn Studios and began work on a new set of songs. He and his bandmates (guitarist Steve Cradock, bassist Andy Crofts and drummer Ben Gordelier) initially collaborated via the Internet, as many of us forced to work from home do, before coming together in the same room once lockdown restrictions eased. It’s not just him and his mates, however. Lia Metcalfe of the Mysterines (a band I’ll now have to check out) joins him on “True,” while his daughter Leah joins him on “Shades of Blue,” which she also cowrote. Andy Fairweather Low trades vocals on the soulful “Testify.”
Give a listen to “True,” which opens like a throwback New Wave tune before taking a left turn into a jazzy stretch, while simultaneously echoing the thematic quests that have accented his albums since Day One: “I never said I could find/just what it means to be true/I never said it was me/I never said it was you.”
That’s the second song, I should mention, following “Cosmic Fringes,” which sports a sleazy beat and vocal. Some might deem it a misdirection, yet it’s a perfect keynote. Like many songs here, it finds him mulling over a life led in solitude: “I’ve come undone/It’s too late to fix it/I just exist/On my own.” The song’s cloaked by eccentricity, I suppose, as are quite a few others – yet, at root, it’s a straight-up rock tune. The same’s true for the title track, which celebrates the music that we lean on.
In some respects, Fat Pop (Volume I) is similar to the other Paul’s latest endeavor, McCartney III, in that, no matter the setting, Weller is always Weller. He looks inward here, as he’s always done, and outwards, too, surveying the world around him. In “That Pleasure,” for instance, he pleads for folks to “look beyond differences” and “lose your hypocrisy/all your contradictions/lose your prejudice/lose this hatred.” At this stage, however, after three days and umpteen plays, “Shades of Blue” may well be my favorite track – though I’m sure it’ll change as the weeks progress.
The truth it shares should ring all the more accurate due to events of the past year: “Spend all your life just to find out/all that matters is close to you.” (And he’s not talking about his record collection!) It’s a great song on a great album. Take my advice: Stack the 45s on the turntable, click play and let the music take you away. You won’t regret it.
The track list: