I’m not keen on Weller.
There, I’ve said it.
Sometimes people get very cross about this.
Like Clapton and Dylan types the Wellends are a bit…fanatical.
Not evangelical but fundamentalist.
I find that a bit off putting. This might be linked to my own time as a member of a pop cult…I was one of “those” Morrissey fans. Don’t get me wrong, I like people who love a band or a singer and who lose themselves in their work but this isn’t what happens with the Wellends. They have deified him. They don’t adore, they worship…and I think that’s unhealthy. He has become a sort of Mod David Koresh. Although a quick look at his latest barnet and some of his clobber suggests that Paul himself has tired of the Mod thing.
The Jam were great. All righteous fury and magpie eyes. Pinching bits from Motown, the Small Faces and myriad others then turbo-charging it with the fury of punk. It isn’t a flawless back catalogue by any stretch of the imagination but, by gum, there are records in their that stand alongside the very best in British pop history and others that soar above many of the so called greats.
The Style Council were the pinnacle of his career for me. Care free, careful and clever. Willing to experiment, determined to be forward thinking, turning his back on revivalism and classic rock and giving himself over to modernism in its truest form. Ace.
Then came the solo career and after the flawed but occasionally charming “Paul Weller” he delivered his best collection of songs up to that point in “Wild Wood”. I don’t think he has ever come close to matching that album. A pastoral, folksy, soulful, hymn to classic English songwriting. His voice was the best it had ever been too, occasionally drifting close to Steve Marriott on things like “Shadow of the Sun”. It is, honestly, perfect.
For many of his most devout followers his last album will always be his best album…those people are, of course, deranged. Anyone who can listen to “True Meanings” and believe it matches “Sound Affects”, “Introducing the Style Council”, “Cafe Bleu”, “Our Favourite Shop” or “Wild Wood” isn’t really listening, they are defending. But for other, more rational, fans of Weller his best album is “Stanley Road”.
Here we are twenty-five years after its release and the question is…how good was it really? It was certainly a big hit and Weller himself certainly believes it to be a career high(light) but despite that it isn’t flawless in the same way as “Wild Wood”.
While Weller clearly transcends labels like “Britpop” it isn’t too much of a leap to place him at the heart of the era given the influence The Jam had on so much of what was going on. Clearly Weller also saw kindred spirits all around him at this point; kids who had grown up on his music and who shared his passion/obsession with The Beatles, The Small Faces, Motown and more were lurking around every corner and at the front of almost every band. He was the elder statesman who was still cool in a way that the likes of Jagger could never manage, thanks, in no small part to his working class roots and his own obsession with his musical idols.
“The Changingman” threw him right into the heart of nineties pop culture. It was a big hit after a few years when those had been hard to come by. Suddenly he was everywhere again; hanging out with the boys from Oasis, on the front cover of magazines, in the celebrity columns of the tabloids. The Modfather was back.
The second single from the album was “You Do Something To Me”. A song so beautiful, so achingly romantic, possessed of such a languid fluidity that it seemed to have been formed from dreams and hope. No, I don’t know what that means either but I don’t know how else to describe something as lovely as this…you have a go.
Not easy is it?
For me the highlight of the album though arrives with “Broken Stones”.
It’s easy to hear this and believe it to be a cover of something by The Small Faces, it oozes the sort of soul that they captured at their finest moments on tracks like “Tin Soldier” or “The Universal”. This has it all; Weller reaching for his inner Otis, a bass line that Lewie Steinberg would have lost his mind to have played, organ that Booker T himself seems to be playing and a groove that the Funk Brothers would have been proud of. Arguably it is Weller’s finest moment.
Actually, to Hell with it…it is his finest moment.
But it’s not all sweet soul music and perfection.
There is a duller than dishwater cover version of Dr John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” that just doesn’t work and, for the life of me, I cannot imagine why anyone thought it was a good idea. It’s especially perplexing when you consider that Weller was playing William Bell’s Stax classic “My Whole World Is Falling Down” at around this time.
What a delight that would have been.
I don’t think anyone would have missed “Pink On White Walls” either…the very definition of filler. Alright, I’m over doing it to try and get a reaction out of the fundamentalists but you know what I mean. It’s just a bit…slight, a bit nursery rhyme-ish. Couldn’t we have had “It’s a New Day Baby” instead?
I doubt it.
But these things apart the album is, undoubtedly, a treasure trove and testament to the highs that Weller is capable of reaching. Songs like “Whirlpool’s End” and “Wings of Speed” are as good as anything else he has done.
He hasn’t ever released an album that reaches the same heights as this again but that isn’t really a criticism…all artists reach a pinnacle at some point and from then on it is about cherishing the moments when the stars align and they hit occasional moments of brilliance again. Take Morrissey (I know, who would want to?) he hit his peak with “Vauxhall and I” back in 1994 and nothing, and I mean nothing, he has done since then has ever come close to matching it. It is rare for a band, or an artist, to consistently release music that is always taking one step forward…even Bowie and Madonna have incredible lows in their careers.
Weller has had as many high points as any of the greats and he deserves the love and adoration of his most ardent fans…although he could probably live without the zealotry of the fundamentalists. “Stanley Road” is one of his best…but not the best.