Album: Paul Weller, Wake Up the Nation (Island)
Rock cliché alert! It's Weller's stunning return to form
Wake Up the Nation is the Paul Weller album that Danny Baker's already hailing as a masterpiece. Now, I'm capable of making up my own mind, but Baker knows a thing or seven so it's a claim worth investigating.
And it turns out he's not a hundred miles from the truth.
While I would fight shy of using the "M" word, Weller's tenth album since going it alone is certainly that beast of rock-crit cliché, "a stunning return to form", and it would be dishonest to allow entrenched grudges held over the rest of his solo career (mainly, for this Style Council devotee, over the betrayal of TSC principles and the sheepish return to rockism) to get in the way of acknowledging that fact.
It might even – and here's another critical cliché – be his best effort since Our Favourite Shop. Its 16 tracks are dominated by rowdy stomps that don't outstay their welcome – two minutes is a not-uncommon running time – but that doesn't mean a return to reductive back-to-basics punkism or a retread of the early Jam, even if their bassist Bruce Foxton makes a guest appearance (along with Bev Bevan of ELO and Clem Cattini of the Tornados).
Some of it's fairly knockabout, but the majority is far more inventive than anything we've heard from Weller in years. Strange squeaks and parps and squiggles burst through the surfaces of the songs, like springs through a mattress, because ... well, why the hell not? There's room for instrumental reveries, while the woozy "Whatever Next" wouldn't have felt out of place on Prince's Around the World in a Day. The choral chant-along "Find the Torch" knowingly plays into Style Council mythology: a Northern Soul torch encircled by the legend "Keeps on Burning" was a recurring logo on Respond Records releases.
There's intrigue: the thunderous and nightmarish "7 & 3 is the Striker's Name". And there's at least one instance of timeless songwriting: "No Tears to Cry", a white soul slow-burner in the Chris Farlowe mould.
For the first time in too long, Paul Weller is not playing catch-up with the zeitgeist, nor trying to live up to his own canon. Waking Up the Nation is an unchained, liberated album, the sound of a young dog chasing cars rather than an old one eating its own tail.
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