MUSIC / Never Jam today: Paul Weller - Royal Albert Hall

'HRRMPH. Not like the drugs he used to take,' said a loud Geordie to his mate as they wended their way through the corridors of the Albert Hall after Paul Weller's Tuesday night show. The confused punter was not alone in expecting some speed-fuelled rants from the Jam catalogue, followed by a dollop of the Cappuccino Kid's sweet jazz balladry from his Style Council days. But, as Weller wearily points out in every interview, he can't stand the idea of resting on his laurels and churning out a hit parade.

Ironically, the man's idea of moving on involves a large amount of looking back. This showed not just in the opening number, an up-tempo cover of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On', but in the material from the well-received new album, Paul Weller (Go] Discs), which he and his well-practised band played in full. 'Took a trip down Boundary Lane / To try an' find myself again . . .' he sang, moving straight into the recent hit 'Uh- Huh-Oh-Yeah]' and bringing a roar of approval from the crowd, which, rather showing its age, had walked swiftly down the aisles to make a crush at the front. Weller's new direction, following on from the disappointments of being dropped by Polydor, selling his studio and wondering if it was all over, consists of looking inward, moving from the political to the personal. He's always been capable of writing a good love song or a three-minute slice of self-scrutiny, but now he has heaps of such stuff to perform, all of it fresh.

Lyrically, in songs like 'Remember How We Started', he was looking backwards to the start of a love, and in 'Into Tomorrow', 'Above the Clouds', 'Kosmos' and 'Time and Space', he was looking all over the place for some kind of metaphysical comfort. Now this is not the Paul Weller one has come to expect.

Musically, his current band held the whole show together with a steady groove, decorated with flutes and bongos and shot through with trippy organ. Call him a mod, call him a hippy, but don't call for 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight'.

The only Jam song of the night, 'Man in the Cornershop', showed what roughness had been left behind. But the Weller voice, exposed in all its raw tunelessness on the recent Jam Extras CD of demos and unproduced sessions, can sometimes lock into a song, such as 'Bull-Rush' or the instant Weller anthem 'Bitterness Rising', making powerful soul music not through sweet vocals but through sheer force of personality.

Having given up chasing markets, the band now makes the music it wants, and that includes many nods to Traffic, Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone. Weller's guitar playing was superb, whether acoustic, jazzy, or just breaking strings (four in all) with his passionate new-wave thrashing. Always one to keep the fans on their toes, the band jammed its way into 'Magic Bus', tossed in a vibesy B- side called 'Arrival Time', and did 'Long Hot Summer' with a new melody and a rock ending. Like the man from Go] Discs says, 'Paul zigs when everyone else zags.'

(Photograph omitted)

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