PAUL WELLER – ” On Sunset “

Posted: July 4, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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The latest album from the veteran singer-songwriter and style icon is an eclectic mix of electronica, psychedelia, pop, balladry and orchestral music. On the album, Paul Weller is aided by his regular cohorts Ben Gordelier, Andy Croft’s and Steve Cradock as well as his old Style Council partner, Mick Talbot, who contributes his Hammond organ mastery to three songs. Singer songwriter Hannah Peel did the string arrangements for the album, and The Paraorchestra perform on four tracks. In addition, other guests perform on individual songs. The album opens with the experimental “Mirror Ball,” a track recorded during the sessions for True Meanings, Weller’s previous studio album. It sounds like bits of different songs pieced together but is quite effective. It is followed by “Baptiste,” a smooth and soulful tune with a strong vocal by Weller. The strings and organ add a great deal to it.

Some of the tracks on the album have Weller looking back on the past with the wisdom and insight of his six decades. “Old Father Tyme” is one of those songs. It’s quite delightful, and Weller sounds like he’s having a blast singing it. The title track is another of the songs that takes a glance to the past. Weller was inspired to write the song when visiting his son in Los Angeles and spending some time on Sunset Boulevard, where he had stayed when he first came to the City of Angels in 1977 on The Jam’s first American tour. It’s an easy going song that flows quite nicely. “More” is something of an off -kilter track that features a verse sung by the French singer Julie Gros of the band Le Superhomard as well as guitar work from Josh McClorey from Irish rockers The Strypes. The strings, flute and horns add lushness to it.

The jaunty “Equanimity” sounds like it could be a Madness song. It includes a measured vocal by Weller and violin by Jim Lea, formerly of Slade. The album’s lead single, “Earth Beat,” looks forward and not to the past. The American singer Coltrane, who Weller met through his daughter, is a guest vocalist on the track. On Sunset is a solid and fascinating piece of work, particularly for an artist 43 years into his recording career. Weller has delivered an interesting and enjoyable album with quite a few standout tracks.

Paul Weller shows few signs of slowing down, fewer still of resorting to lazy repetition. A staggering 43 years since The Jam‘s In The City heralded the beginning of a career that now spans 15 widely diverse solo albums, he retains a restlessness that has seen recent outings make forays into acoustic folk, krautrock, exploratory electronica and music concrete.

Yet a new unlikely theme is beginning to cement itself in Weller’s work, one of mindful domestic contentment. On Sunset witnesses a man who has over the past decade given up the booze and drugs casting a misty eye over one of the most illustrious and varied careers in the British music history. Reflections on his past aren’t new to the 62-year-old, of course. There was much of that on the sonically varied pairing of Saturns Pattern and A Kind Revolution and 2018’s acoustic folk collection True Meanings. What is new is how irrepressibly upbeat, at peace and downright happy the famously spiky one-time king of mod sounds here.

“A lot of the lyrics are about looking back, from the point of view of a 60-something man, not with regret or sadness, but with huge optimism,” Weller explains.

Opening track Mirror Ball has a hopelessly romantic sentiment. It’s Weller’s ode to the timeless joy of the dancefloor, from 1920s ballrooms through Wigan Casino and the Twisted Wheel to present-day techno clubs. It also underlines emphatically Weller’s commitment to experimentation across nearly eight minutes, with a full minute of ambient instrumental sound-scaping housed in its mid-section.

Originally destined to be a B-side for True Meanings, Weller included the song here after friends advised him it was too strong to be thrown away. His weathered voice resembles, not for the last time on this record, David Bowie’s as pulsing synths and a snatch of Spanish guitar open out into a shimmering disco groove, with a devilish octaved guitar riff making ostentatious interjections.

There are more familiar moments to be found, with “soulful” the predominant mood. Several of the songs on Weller’s 15th solo album were written with a diverse set of singers in mind – notably Bobby Womack and Pharrell Williams.

On Baptiste, a song Weller calls “a celebration of soul music’s universality” the inspiration is Bobby Bland. The New Orleans-style stomp positively glows with analogue warmth, Weller and Steve Cradock’s rootsy playing backed up by parping horns as the singer emotes “from the mountains high to the valleys low”.

Across On Sunset‘s 10 tracks, the palette is fuller and more colourful than on True Meanings – Games Of Thrones composer Hannah Peel’s orchestrations melding with Weller’s regular sidemen Cradock, bassist Andy Crofts, Tom Van Heel on keys and drummer and additional guitarist Steve Pilgrim. Indie-folk trio The Staves also contribute backing vocals.

On Old Father Tyme, the air is thick with nostalgia and fond reflection. “Time will become you, you will become time,” Weller acknowledges, piano chords, horns and acoustic guitar fusing with electronic percussion and gurgling synth textures, Weller at once glancing in his rear-view mirror and striding into the future.

Style Council mate Mick Talbot adds Hammond organ to the wistful Village, co-written with producer Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert. With an ample dose of wah in the mix, Weller brims with contentment, “heaven in my sights”, recognising that utopia can be the people and places closest to home. He sighs blithely, “Not a thing I’d change if I could/ I’m happy here in my neighbourhood.” It is ever so slightly cloying.

The silky tones of French singer Julie Gros from space-pop touring partners Le Superhomard are a pleasing counterpart to Weller’s oaky timbre on the lovely, cinematic More, the sweeping strings adding drama to an arrangement that sparkles with flute, sax and Weller and Cradock’s darting guitar runs. Lyrically, it’s a rare deviation from the convivial mood, Weller critiquing avaricious consumer culture before cutting loose on a wanton solo in the final moments.

The jaunty music hall of Equanimity is the most eye-opening moment. In Weller’s words, it’s “a bit Berlin cabaret, a bit Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band” if that’s something you can imagine, Slade’s Jim Lea contributing a sweet violin solo. Town Called Malice it ain’t.

Just as far out of Weller’s existing wheelhouse is the future-gazing funk of Earth Beat. His admirable appetite to remain current sees emerging British R&B artist Col3trane adding his hushed vocals to an upbeat electro-pop romp co-written with Jim Jupp, founder of Ghost Box Records.

On Sunset‘s high point, though, is the closing Rockets, a Bowie-esque acoustic ballad with strings and sax rising tastefully into the picture, and a stately Weller reminding us he maintains some punk fury as he rails against social injustice, poverty and corrupt power structures. “All our lives, the system all decides/ The institutions old but still in control,” he rages. It’s really rather beautiful, an affecting end that shows Weller wearing his 62 years well.

Yet it’s notable that amid all the reflective serenity and happiness this impressively multifarious album is bathed in, it’s when Paul Weller gets angry again that On Sunset is most incisive.

The bonus tracks for the deluxe CD edition of Paul Weller‘s new album On Sunset have been confirmed. The deluxe CD (which comes in hardcover book packaging rather than jewel case) will actually have FIVE bonus tracks, not three as originally thought. That takes the track count from 10 to 15. The songs are as follows: 4th Dimension, Ploughman, I’ll think of Something, On Sunset (Orchestral mix), Baptiste (instrumental version)

The Japanese version of the deluxe CD is a 16-track edition. It features the five tracks above, plus a Japan-only bonus track called ‘Failed’.

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