With the mega-hit Stanley Road, Paul Weller had made three number 1 albums with three different bands, each featuring a unique sound while capturing the zeitgeist of its particular era. Extraordinary really. After touring Europe and the UK for the better part of October through December 1995, Paul Weller had a relatively quiet 1996 musically. Divorcing his wife Dee C Lee, drinking heavily, and imbibing a number of substances, Weller once again returned to Woking to try to sort himself out. Looking back on that period, he recently said, “It was like having my mid-life crisis early on, to get it out the way. And I'm not moaning - apart from the emotional thing, which was pretty awful, I had a brilliant time in other ways. I just didn't want to do it for ever more.”
1997 saw the release of his fourth solo LP, Heavy Soul, on June 23 (Go! Discs). Heavy Soul should have been Weller’s second straight chart topping album – it actually outsold Radiohead’s OK Computer – but a number of records were disqualified from the count because they contained too many free postcards. Consequently, Heavy Soul peaked at number 2 on the UK charts. A much rougher record than the previous one and loaded with loud guitars, Heavy Soul shows that approaching 40, Paul Weller was still the angry – if not so young anymore – man. This point is illustrated by the quote on the back of the cd booklet: “To all my people, you know and so do I. To anyone whosoever slated me – fu-k you.” Personally, if I was forced to choose my favorite Weller solo record it would be this one. I’m not saying it is a better overall LP than Stanley Road, but I really dig the raw guitars and, yes, the heaviness of this album. It is probably the one I play the most. I don’t think there is a bad song on this record, though “Brushed” is almost too loud and droning for me. The title track, selected below, starts off the record and is a good introduction to the overriding tone of the album. I’ve always loved the song’s defiant lyrics, which I think sum up Weller’s position after 20 years in the music business – That I can’t be beaten and I can’t be bought. The Heavy Soul tour made it to America and I saw the gig at the Warfield in San Francisco. The four piece band featuring Matt Deighton on guitar, Yolanda Charles on bass, and of course Steve White on drums was smoking.
There was a long wait for Weller’s next studio album, Heliocentric, which came out on April 10, 2000, on Island Records. This record reached number 2 on the UK charts probably due to Paul Weller’s reputation and fiercely loyal fan base rather than the actual merit of the music. It is my least favorite of his solo efforts, though there are some songs I like a lot. “He’s The Keeper,” Weller’s tribute to Ronnie Lane, the bass player in The Small Faces/Faces, is one song from this LP that I go back to often. I also enjoy the pacing and drums of “Back In The Fire,” selected below. The lyrical stanza – Not handcuffed to same wanker/who doesn’t know me/And doesn’t see that our lives are made/On all the efforts of the masses/And all the people who deserve a better fate – is pretty good too.
When Heliocentric was released there was much talk about how it would be Paul Weller’s last album. Nevertheless, he did tour extensively in 2000 and 2001, the latter dates solo and acoustically. Of course, the rumors proved false with the release of Illumination on the Independiente label on September 16, 2002. Really, what else would Paul Weller do then write and play music – he’s never had any other job! Illumination returned Weller to the top of the UK charts with his second solo number 1 LP. While Illumination is a much stronger album than Heliocentric, in my opinion it does not rate with Weller’s other number 1, Stanley Road. A nice collection of songs, Illumination doesn’t capture and sum up an era the way Stanley Road did. That said, I’ve got great memories of this album. I was living in Amsterdam when it came out and “One X One,” selected below and featuring Noel Gallagher on drums and bass and Gem Archer playing acoustic guitar, reminds me of riding around the damp, cold city at night on my bicycle that fall. “All Good Books,” also selected below is Weller’s post-9/11 song about religious fanaticism and features sweet backing vocals from Carleen Anderson and Jocelyn Brown and guitar from ex-Stone Roses player Aziz Ibrahim. I was fortunate enough to see the Illumination Tour in Berlin and Amsterdam that year as well as in NYC the following February.
In September 2004, Paul Weller next released a collection of cover songs called Studio 150 after the music studio in Amsterdam where they were recorded. Studio 150 reached number 2 in the UK charts and contains excellent versions of “Wishing On A Star,” originally by Rose Royce, “Birds” by Neil Young, and believe it or not “Close To You,” which was made famous by The Carpenters. All things considered, however, this album was Paul Weller biding his time until his latest bout of writer’s block passed and he had a new batch of his own tunes to record.
The new songs did come and they were released by V2 on October 10, 2005. As Is Now was hailed as a return to form for Weller, but it only climbed to number 4 in the UK charts. A solid LP, As Is Now has got a little of everything for Weller fans: some all-out rocking stompers, such as “From The Floorboards Up,” “Blink And You’ll Miss It,” and “Come On/Let’s Go,” the return of Jacko Peake and horns, a string section, and some funk on the aptly titled “Bring Back The Funk (Parts 1 and 2).” “Savages,” selected below, is about the Beslan school massacre in Russia. I tend to think As Is Now is a bit overrated, but maybe I’ve come to expect greatness from Paul Weller, and I don’t think this record is up there with his 90s output.
So, as we await the new double album 22 Dreams, which is getting excellent reviews in England, I can’t help but wonder what it is going to be like. Is it going to be simply good, on a level with As Is Now, or will Paul Weller deliver another transcendent record on par with Stanley Road? If I had to bet, I’d say he is due for another amazing, career-defining moment. Either way, it is going to be nice to have a new batch of Weller songs to listen to.
It certainly has been fun breaking out all the old records this past week, revisiting his incredible body of work with The Jam, The Style Council, and as a solo artist. Thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane – hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Paul Weller - Heavy Soul, Pt. 1 (Mp3)
Paul Weller - Back In The Fire (Mp3)
Paul Weller - One X One (Mp3)
Paul Weller - All Good Books (Mp3)
Paul Weller - Savages (Mp3)
From the forthcoming 22 Dreams (Universal Records), on June 2nd (Yep Roc on July 22nd in the US).
(Dates, stats, and quotes for this section of Wellerweek derived from Shout To The Top: The Jam And Paul Weller and Telegraph.co.uk )