The Modfather Goes Pastoral Again
Paul Weller is consistently one of the most listenable artists of the past forty years, and his latest album is spot-on. The former Jam and Style Council frontman’s 14th solo effort,True Meanings, exposes his softer side on a collection of string-soaked ballads and jazz-chord tunes featuring collaborators such as Noel Gallagher, Rod Argent, Danny Thompson, and Lucy Rose.
Rock fans remember The Jam as the post-punk trio who wrote power pop about life in the U.K. during a procession of unpopular Prime Ministers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The band’s albums, particularly All Mod Cons and Sound Affects, minded the gap between the two major Britrock Invasions of the 1960s and 1990s, connecting The Who to Oasis and earning Weller the nickname “The Modfather.” His short-lived second act, the Style Council, made blue-eyed soul in the halcyon days of MTV ( 1984’s“My Ever Changing Moods“ remains the singer’s biggest U.S. single to date, thanks in part to its goofy music video). Now, at 60, Paul Weller has played at Live Aid, covered songs by Neil Young and Sister Sledge, performed with everyone from Adele to Blur, and won a Mercury Prize and Ivor Novello award.
It’s easy to associate Weller’s music with the movement that birthed the Jam, the Clash, Elvis Costello, and the Sex Pistols, but he’s actually a peer of the biggest acts of the 1980s (for perspective: he’s the same age as Sade and Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon and shares many of the same influences – from Chic to Roxy Music and Marvin Gaye), and his solo aesthetic often veers away from that of his bands. Casual listeners will find that True Meanings is a great introduction to Weller’s pastoral and soulful style. The album draws upon his love of traditional English folk songs and American R & B, and also mines tricks from his own prolific catalogue of pop and rock. On the opening track, “The Soul Searchers,” The Zombies’ keyboardist Argent plays Hammond organ for a bit of swingin’ London psychedelia as guest vocalist/cowriter Connor O’Brien (the Villagers) sings along to the Van Morrison-esque prose; “Mayfly” waltzes to piano, horn, and bluesy guitar licks, while “Old Castle” and “Movin On” recall the kind of dreamy cut-tempo tunes at which Weller has always excelled (think 1992’s brilliant “Above the Clouds”); the album’s four one-word ballads “Glide,””Gravity,””Books, and “Aspects” could be bundled together as a chilled-out acoustic suite with The Jams’s “English Rose.” “May Love Travel with You” is a cinematic reckoning with aging, and “White Horses” offers a botanical metaphor about the pull of true love. He’s never been afraid to sing about the state of the world, but whenever Paul Weller hums about the wind in the willows, misty mornings, and True Meanings, I’m always down with that.