Album: Paul Weller, Wake Up the Nation (Island)

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The Independent Culture

Like its sprawling predecessor 22 Dreams, his latest album finds Paul Weller roving restlessly across a broad musical terrain – but with Wake Up the Nation, the 16 tracks zip by in under 40 minutes, like glimpses snatched from the window of a speeding train.

"Moonshine" opens the album like a gunshot, a great pounding R&B rocker that resembles what Dr Feelgood might have sounded like with Little Richard on piano; it hangs around just long enough to slap you in the face before giving way to the title-track, a terse, abrasive call-to-musical arms in which guitars and tambourine collude in a funkier version of The Velvet Underground's chugging motorik pulse. From this exhilarating opening combination, things don't let up, but just get more involved: "No Tears To Cry" is another compelling musical hypothesis, this time of what a 1960s Brit-soul boy might have sounded like produced by Lieber & Stoller, while the closer "Two Fat Ladies" has music-hall vernacular draped in Beatle-esque psychedelia and riding the "Lust for Life" riff, an unexpectedly irresistible blend of styles.

For Wake Up the Nation, Weller has jettisoned the more folkie elements that gave 22 Dreams its reflective tone, reinforcing instead the rock and soul core of his music. "Aim High" is a soundtrack-soul funk groove in the Bobby Womack manner, with sleekly shimmering strings and pert brass fanfares, and the febrile combination of Diddley-beat blues-rock and free-jazz weirdness that comprises "7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name" recalls Beefheart's early Magic Band sound. Psychedelia drives the tracks in intriguing directions: mellotron and flute bring a patchouli-scented headiness to the instrumental "Whatever Next"; while elsewhere the line "like pieces of a dream, disturbingly serene" is brought vividly to life by cascading piano droplets, harp glissandi and guitar. It's a rare moment of calm in an otherwise urgent set, however.

The longest track "Trees", in which Weller evokes the desire of weary old folks to "stand tall, once more a tree", shifts back and forth at one-minute intervals, its basic scratch'n'synth-streaked New Orleans-style piano groove giving way to periodic bouts of nostalgic reflection couched in spooky, swirling textures, like distant memories struggling to form clear images. "Grasp & Still Connect" employs similar shifts of mood and pace, but the most effective example is surely "Fast Car/Slow Traffic", which has the stop-start progress of an inner-city snarl-up, its urgent momentum interrupted by passages of free-jazz breakdown gridlock. But everywhere you search there's something intriguing going on here – and if you don't get on with one track, another will be along to replace it before you can reach the skip button.

Download this Moonshine; Wake Up the Nation; Aim High; Fast Car/ Slow Traffic; Two Fat Ladies