Album: Paul Weller, Sonik Kicks (Island)
While not as immediately career-defining as Wake Up the Nation, there's no denying that with Sonik Kicks, Paul Weller is continuing the courageous, exploratory course established on 2008's 22 Dreams, experimenting with the impish abandon of one who long since ceased letting others' opinions determine his course.
The solarised, psychedelic colours of the sleeve serve due notice of what to expect: these are sonic kicks, first and foremost, and barely a track passes by without an acid-fried aural equivalent of a mushroomed sunset, with swathes of backwards guitars, whining synths and sundry effects. It's quite dizzying: at times one yearns for the secure foothold of a simpler, more direct rocker, but the few occasions when they turn up, like the slick, sardonic "That Dangerous Age" and the urgent, itchily expectant "The Attic", they're here and gone in the blink of an eye, as if Weller had swiftly grown bored with them and wanted to push his personal envelope again in some new direction.
To give him credit, he doesn't try and ease the listener in: the opener "Green" is as weird as it gets, with tendrils of wah-wah guitar trailing its juddering vibrato groove, and multi-tracked spoken vocals peppering one from all corners of the soundstage about the meaning of green, while the bizarre, disjunctive mix features unexpected channel-shifts and drop-outs, before the track dissolves in a drizzle of electronic bleeps and wisps of guitar. Later on, "Around the Lake" is a psych-rock swagger with siren synth and FX circling its central guitar riff; "Sleep of the Serene", a liquid instrumental with synths, strings and backward guitars in otherworldly alliance; and "Dragonfly", a shifting, echoey blend of piano and FX riding a steady drum pulse, as Weller offers a tribute to a lady friend that doesn't end up as admiring as it seems: "She's in a world with no people/All the scope without the hope or the reason".
In between these trippy sonic excursions, he gets his kicks in some unusual areas. "Study in Blue" is the longest piece here, a languorous jazz-soul-reggae groove which, like the best Jamaican singles, comes with its own second-half melodica dub. And "Kling I Klang" is a terse, uptempo guitar polka that finds Weller dismissive of misplaced regret and guilt: "There's only one moment, that is now/I can't undo what I don't know how". And though "Drifters" may be essentially yet another psych-rocker awash in swirling FX, there's a Doors-like undertow and a slight Spanish flavour to it that lend it the feel of a vacationeer's bad-trip epiphany.
It's a hazy but deeply satisfying journey that reaches an uplifting, positive conclusion in the shimmering strings of "Be Happy Children", where Weller seems to draw on the spirit of Curtis Mayfield for an anthemic refrain advising the troubled to "think upon, look along, be happy children". It's about as close as the album gets to the judgmental proclamations that used to be the Modfather's stock-in-trade – but he was so much older then, he's younger than that now.
DOWNLOAD THIS Around the Lake; That Dangerous Age; Kling I Klang; Drifters; Be Happy Children
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