Posts Tagged ‘Paul Weller’

I’ve been grooving to the new Stone Foundation album, Is Love Enough?, this morning and early afternoon. It’s rife with echoes of another era, yet those ancient reverberations never overwhelm the music in the moment; rather, they buttress it in ways near impossible to put into print. I’d planned to offer my thoughts about the set tomorrow, after a few more spins, but one play has led to a second, third, fourth and, now, fifth and sixth. These are days of worry and fear, of not knowing whether or if “normal” life will return, but these songs strip away those unsettling concerns, albeit for just under an hour. The Midlands-based band is providing much-needed sustenance to my weary soul, in other words, and in the best way possible. Their music, as I used to say on my old website, “takes you there, wherever there is.”  

Produced by founding members Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, the album explores love in its many facets. In the release announcing the LP, Sheasby explains that, “We felt it was the right moment to move the big subjects such as hope, compassion, empathy and indeed love to the forefront of our writing. We wanted to attempt something ambitious.” Suffice it to say, they succeeded.

The album was recorded at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios in Surrey. Weller appears on five tracks; he takes lead on “Deeper Love,” provides backing vocals on “Picture a Life” (which, at this stage, is my favorite on the album) and plays guitar on three others; Weller’s Style Council mates Steve White and Mick Talbot also appear. 

They’re not the only guests, however. Durand Jones (of the Indiana-based soul revival band Durand Jones and the Indications) turns in a hypnotic vocal on the heartfelt “Hold on to Love.”

North London soul singer Laville and vocalist Sulene Fleming, who toured with the Brand New Heavies (and now performs with Talbot in Mother Earth), also step to the microphone, as does a Mr Memory (?) and none other than Peter Capaldi, who starred as the 12th incarnation of Doctor Who. The stars aren’t Weller or the other walk-ons, however, but Jones, Sheasby and their band, not to mention the songs themselves. They conjure the soul, R&B and funk of days gone by, from Average White Band to Earth, Wind & Fire to Parliament-Funkadelic to Style Council, while providing musical epiphany after musical epiphany. “I love this,” Diane said earlier of “Changes”…

…and, just now, “this music is so good!” That sums it up, I think.

The closing track features Capaldi reciting a quote from Vincent Van Gogh. “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” The Stone Foundation has lived up to those words here. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year, thus far.

My ordered LP is still in transit, so my track-list pic is from Apple Music:

 

Looking forward. Looking back. Embracing the new. Celebrating the old. Since his start with the Jam, Paul Weller’s contradictory impulses have introduced a slew of sonic delights – as well as the occasional dud – to this thing we call rock ’n’ soul. On Sunset, his 15th solo studio set, finds him weaving avant-garde accents into an oft-compelling tapestry of sound, while lyrically indulging in the self-reflection that comes with growing old(er). 

It’s Weller being Weller, in other words. He’s always mused about life, love and the meanings therein, after all, and occasionally looked askance at the wider world. He’s also been adept at integrating seemingly discordant chords into a coherent whole. 

The first track, “Mirror Ball,” is actually a holdover from the True Meanings sessions; Weller originally heard it as a b-side or bonus track, but realized it deserved a wider audience. A suite of sorts, the music rolls toward shore in a succession of waves for almost seven-and-a-half minutes, threatening to inundate everything but stopping just short.

“Old Father Tyme” and “Village” wouldn’t have been out of place on True Meanings. The former finds him staring age in the face: “Time will become you/You’ll become time/All hail the love/It’s the love divine.” The latter, meanwhile, finds the 62-year-old Weller measuring his life and realizing that, with heaven now in sight, he’s content: “I never knew what a world this was/Till I looked in my heart/And saw myself for what I am/Found a whole world in my hand…” 

(As Todd Rundgren might say, “love is the answer.”)

On the surface, “More” is about consumerism – but, upon deeper inspection, it’s – ahem – more than that: “The more we get, the more we lose/when all is ‘more,’ it’s more we choose/There’s always something else in store/That keeps me running down the road/Keeps me running/To an unknown place I think is more.” In essence, the quest for more distracts from what we have, i.e. the present. I should add that, aside from the philosophizing, the almost seven-minute opus features a way-cool vocal cameo from French singer Julie Gros (of the band Le Superhomard) as well as incendiary guitar runs from Weller and Steve Craddock.

In addition to Gros, contributors to the album include former Style Council mate Mick Talbot, the Staves, Col3trane, Madness saxophonist Lee Thompson, Slade violinist Jim Lea, the Paraorchestra and Irish composer Hannah Peel. Weller plays Captain Many Hands on many tracks, while drummer Ben Gordelier keeps the beat throughout; Andy Crofts plays on most of the songs and Craddock lends his talents to four. 

In many respects, the lead single “Earth Beat” is the culmination of Weller’s intent with the album, as it features synths, blips and beats as well as Col3trane and the Staves on backing vocals. As he explained on Instagram, it ”comes from a track that Jim Jupp had done as Belbury Poly on his label GhostBox. I’m a big fan of that label. I think the track was called ‘The Willows.’ I started singing this song over the top of it, and came up with the bass riff as well and the guitar riff – just singing over the top of Jim’s original track. Then I got in touch, asked if I could try and develop the track and it rolled on from that.” 

The album proper closes with “Rockets,” which is guaranteed to blast most listeners into deep space, a la “Space Oddity” or “Ashes to Ashes.” It’s an intense, fanciful tribute to David Bowie. 

The deluxe version of the album features five additional tracks, including an “orchestral mix” of the bittersweet title track, which finds Weller seeking out the clubs he played in L.A. with the Jam. “And the world I knew/Has all gone by/All the places we used to go/Belong to a time/Someone else’s life/Another time…”

As a whole, to my ears, the album finds Weller at the top of his game, offering a bit of the old with a bit of the new. It’s one of the year’s best, thus far (albeit with one of the year’s worst covers).

When I was a teen in the early ‘80s, I often rode my 10-speed bike from Hatboro to Memory Lane Records in neighboring Horsham, a 50-minute round trip, as it traded in used (aka less expensive) vinyl, and left balancing a small stack of LPs and 45s on the handlebars. Around the same time, for a spell, I belonged to the RCA Music Club, which featured insane deals a-plenty. It wasn’t uncommon for me to receive two, three, four or more cassettes in the same shipment. 

Some titles were new; others were new-to-me. Either-or, it didn’t matter. I played them and played them again, winnowing the wheat from the chaff, and then, in a few weeks, rode my bike back to Memory Lane and started anew with another batch of LPs and 45s. Or maybe, instead, I stopped at the Hatboro Music Shop or Sam Goody’s in the Village Mall, which stocked imports – though the prices at both were such that I rarely left with more than one LP. The summer before my senior year, I made the hour-long train trip from my suburban enclave into Philly every so often just to explore the esoteric stores on South Street.

By the end of the ‘80s, when I managed the CD departments at two video stores, it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave work with several CDs I’d sold to myself – and then head to the (relatively) new Tower Records on South Street or down to Jeremiah’s Record Exchange in Delaware to splurge some more. (In between, I was trading tapes with customers. Found lots of great music that way. To the left is one I made around that time. I was obviously in a bit of a country state of mind.)

I’m sure the same basic process played out for many folks reading this: We jumped feet-first into music fandom and obsessiveness, forever compelled to seek out new and new-to-us sounds. Sometimes we (or, at least, me) obsess over one artist or album for weeks or months on end. And then we move on. While there were and are many upsides to the process, there was (and is) one major downside: Some great music got (and gets) lost in the shuffle.

But given that most budgets bust from time to time, and spending must be reined in, you eventually re-acquainted yourself with the one-spin wonders and realized you were too quick in your initial assessment. In the age of streaming media, however, one’s budget is no longer an issue. Whether you subscribe to a streaming service or make do with ads, there’s never a reason to give something a second listen if it didn’t hook you on the first. 

Which, in a roundabout way, leads to this: Paul Weller released Other Aspects, Live at the Royal Albert Hall on March 8th, 2019. It came to be thanks to Weller’s sublime 2018 release, True Meanings, which is a laidback acoustic set accented by orchestral backing. Taking an orchestra out on the road is a tad expensive, however, so he booked a couple nights at the iconic Royal Albert Hall, hired an orchestra, and plotted out a 25-song set that matched the new tunes with past classics, and…voila! A live album was born.

I remember listening to it on the way to work shortly after its release and then on my way home that same night…and returning to the Day-Glo sounds of the Paisley Underground, which had been swirling in and around my head since the release of the 3×4 compilation earlier in the year, the next day. Part of that was due to nostalgia, another part due to escape. And, soon, Lucy Rose’s remarkable No Words Left caught my ear. And then another new release. And then an Oasis jag. And then something else…

I forgot about Other Aspects, in other words, until late December, when I pulled up my Apple Music library in order to listen to Weller’s solo debut for this Essentials piece. I saw Other Aspects listed with the other titles and clicked play…

…and was instantly hooked. How could I have not returned to it sooner?! It’s contemplative, which is where my head’s at right now. Taking life in. Pondering my present and future.

If you listened to “One Bright Star,” you’ll hear the initial strains of an orchestra, applause, and then Weller and his band kick off with the 22 Dreams track. It’s mid-tempo, lush, and anchored by Weller’s weathered, soulful vocals. That sums up the album in full, actually, which features 11 (of 14) songs from True Meanings, a handful of Jam and Style Council tunes, and gems from his solo years. Here’s “Strange Museum” from his solo debut, for example:

Another highlight: “The Soul Searchers” from True Meanings. It’s a tremendous song in the mode of his classic “Wild Wood.”

And speaking of “Wild Wood”… yep, that’s here, too.

As is (obvious from the album’s title) “Aspects,” another stellar True Meanings tune.

Another favorite: “Private Hell,” the Jam song from Setting Sons, which swaps its fiery and frenzied foundation for an orchestral underpinning. The picture Weller paints with his pointed poetry stings, still. (In some respects, life in the 21st century isn’t all that different than the pre-Internet age.)

In short, one’s headspace can make or break an album as much as the music itself. Such was the case here for me, upon first listen. But upon the second, third and fourth listens, which occurred nine months later? If I knew then what I know now, it would’ve been in my Top 5 albums of the year. It’s a wondrous, magical set. Check it out now… or when you’re ready to receive it.

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last week, while flipping through my photo library, I came across pictures from just prior to our move last year from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, when we were sorting through the collected ephemera of two lives and deciding what to take and what to toss. Among the latter: cassettes I made in the late 1980s and early 90s to listen to in the car. (I know: How quaint.) The above tape, from sometime in late 1992 or early ‘93, was one.

For those who don’t recognize the songs on Side A, they represent Paul Weller’s 1992 eponymous solo debut in full, with the closing “Kosmos” spanning onto Side B. My stereo setup had the ability to fade in or out when recording to tape, so I might have done that here, but since the song also fades out and in, who knows? I may have made use of one of the natural stop, cut out the five minutes of recording groove (see Wikipedia’s entry on the album for more on that), and kicked off Side B with the 30-second reprieve that closed the album. The remainder of the second side consists of Jam tunes, most likely lifted (for expediency’s sake) from Snap! and Extras.

Paul Weller’s solo debut, which followed his days with the Jam (1976-82) and Style Council (1983-89), has never been far out of my reach since its release. In some respects, it laid down the blueprint he’s followed ever since, mixing heavy soul with jazzy touches, self-reflection and self-recrimination. It opens with the propulsive “Uh Huh, Oh Yeah,” which sets the stage: “I took a trip down boundary lane/trying to find myself again…”

Though he’d been to the top with both the Jam and Style Council, by the end of the ‘80s he seemed in danger of teetering into oblivion. This Coventry Live article delves into that fall from and return to grace, but to cut to the chase: Instead of giving up, he formed a band, hit the road and self-released a single (“Into Tomorrow”) that turned enough ears to land him a record deal.

The urgency that drives the performance coupled with the philosophical/questioning bent of the lyrics equals Paul Weller at his best, and defines the album in total. Another high point: “Above the Clouds,” which is one of my favorite Weller songs.

The early ‘90s were a time of CD singles laden with bonus tracks, of course, and Weller released a few in support of the album. (They were hard to find in the States, but I managed to locate most.) In 2009, however, a deluxe reissue made those long-ago efforts moot by gathering them all together alongside alternate mixes and demos, plus a cool cover of “Abraham, Martin & John.” It’s well worth the expense.

Of those bonus tracks: My favorite was and is “Everything Has a Price to Pay.”

(The two studio albums that immediately followed, Wild Wood and Stanley Road, are equally essential to my ears, as are a smattering of his latter-day albums, including 22 Dreams, A Kind Revolution, True Meanings and this year’s double-disc live opus, Other Aspects.) 

Here’s the track listing of the original release: