After the release of the disappointing Confessions of A Pop Group, The Style Council –without drummer Steve White – returned to the studio to work on another album. Paul and Mick had been getting into House music and the sound and energy of this scene completely influenced what they recorded. Described variously as Garage or House (I’m not versed in the nuanced differences of these styles to know the difference) Modernism: A New Decade was delivered to the record company in early 1989. The executives at Polydor were shocked by what they heard and sensing they had a commercial bomb on their hands activated a clause in Paul Weller’s million pound per album contract. Stating Modernism did not have two singles on it, which was required of every LP, they rejected the record. Weller was livid, stating, “I’ve made all those fu-kers millions of pounds.” It would now be up to the attorneys to sort out the termination of his contract with Polydor.
The expression the British use is that Weller had “lost the plot” by this point. As I listen to Modernism now (the album was included as part of The Council’s 1998 box set), I don’t think it is THAT bad. The songs have a groove and you can definitely imagine dancing to it in a club (if that’s the sort of thing you got up to 18 or 19 years ago). But, I can understand why Polydor refused to release it and do agree to a certain extent with the view that Weller had lost his way. While you have to respect his commitment to continuing to experiment and explore different musical styles, the lyrics to Modernism’s songs are Paul Weller’s weakest. The Council did a few Japanese gigs in the early summer, and then on July 4, 1989, they played their final concert at the Royal Albert Hall. They officially called it quits in August.
By all accounts the demise of The Style Council left Paul Weller in a major depression. Without a band for the first time in his adult life, no record contract, unable to come up with any new material, and unsure of what direction to go, Weller spent most of his time at home with Dee and their two young children. In late 1990, after about a year and a half of doing nothing musically, Weller was finally able to write a couple of new songs. The Paul Weller Movement originally released “Into Tomorrow,” selected below, in 1991. One of the first things noticeable about “Into Tomorrow,” compared with the songs on Modernism, is the prominence of the guitar. Weller had finally gotten over his hang up about being considered a guitar hero. Instead, he returned to playing the instrument that had always been one of his strengths and this, along with the return of Steve White to the drums, helps to give this record a raw feel that had certainly been lacking in later era Council.
Late 1990 and 1991 saw Weller hit the road to test out his new songs and to recapture his feel for playing live again. I remember seeing The Paul Weller Movement at the Ritz in New York City in December 1991. Since he didn’t have enough new material he also dipped into his back catalogue of songs from The Jam and The Style Council. At the end of “That’s Entertainment” Weller mockingly reeled off a few lines from The Smiths’ “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” as Morrissey had just covered the classic Jam song.
By the following spring Paul Weller had enough new songs to record an album. The eponymous named LP was released by Go! Discs on August 31, 1992. Paul Weller reached number 8 on the UK charts. Like the old days with The Jam, Paul Weller was back out on the road touring the new album extensively, playing Japan, America, Europe, and the UK (in contrast The Style Council played just 4 shows total in the USA: 2 each in LA and NYC). “Above The Clouds,” selected below from the album, is one of my all-time favorite Weller compositions. A song about self-doubt, it has got a great sound with flute from Jacko Peake and jazzy guitar playing from Weller. Overall, Paul Weller’s first solo album has a coherence and really cool vibe that I’m sure has much to do with co-producer Brendan Lynch’s touch as well as the talented musicians and vocalists, who included Steve White, Marco Nelson, Camelle Hinds, Dr. Robert (of The Blow Monkeys), Carleen Anderson, and Dee C Lee.
After the relative success of his debut solo record, Paul Weller returned to the studio to make another album. In 1993, the songs were really starting to flow again – marking the beginning of another incredible period of creativity for Weller. Wild Wood was recorded at The Manor in Oxfordshire with much of the same personnel from the previous sessions – Steve White, Marco Nelson, Jacko Peake, and Brendan Lynch. Steve Cradock, who would subsequently become a regular member of Paul Weller’s band, made his first appearance on the song “Shadow Of The Sun.” Wild Wood also features a Style Council reunion of sorts with Mick Talbot and Dee C Lee joining Steve White and Weller on “5th Season.” Released by Go! Discs on September 6, 1993, Wild Wood rose to number 2 in the charts and is considered by some to be Paul Weller’s finest solo record. It is an earthy album with fantastic lyrics and tremendously cool sounds courtesy of the Mellotron, Moog, and mini-Moog keyboards. Selecting just one song from this LP for a download is tough, but I’m going with “All The Pictures On The Wall” for the lyrics: There was a time I really loved you/But when that was I just can’t say. I saw him touring Wild Wood at Lupo’s Heart Break Hotel in Providence, RI in December 1993 and it was amazing.
Wild Wood was a critical success as well. Weller won best British Male Solo Artist at the 1994 Brits, but declined to pick up the prize. He was also awarded an Ivor Novello Award for outstanding song writing. Additionally, this was the period when Britpop ruled the airwaves and everyone was naming Paul Weller and The Jam as major influences. It was fashionable again to be Paul Weller and he was dubbed the Modfather at this time.
Weller returned to The Manor to record his follow up to Wild Wood. Stanley Road, named for the street he grew up on in Woking (it was actually Walton Road), became his biggest selling record ever – surpassing anything ever put out by The Jam or The Style Council. Going straight to number 1 on the charts after its May 15, 1995 release, Stanley Road made Paul Weller absolutely huge again in the UK. And rightly so! Stanley Road is a brilliant LP. There are so many great songs on this record, beginning with the first single, “The Changingman.” “Out Of The Sinking, ” selected below, is Weller’s song for London and the Thames. As he has said, “I wanted to write my ultimate mod-soul love song… the middle eight is pure Small Faces but I’m really proud of it. It’s a great love song and a London love song for me.” The other song from Stanley Road below is “Broken Stones,” which features Weller on a Hammond joined by Mick Talbot on a Fender Rhodes. “Broken Stones” has been a regular in his live sets ever since it came out in 1995. I love the opening lyrics, Like pebbles on a beach/Kicked around, displaced by feet/Like broken stones – all trying to get home. The album cover is also fun to study, featuring artwork by Peter Blake. If you don’t own it already, head to your local record store immediately. Stanley Road is a must for any record collection.
Paul Weller - Into Tomorrow (Mp3)
Paul Weller - Above The Clouds (Mp3)
Paul Weller - All The Pictures On The Wall (Mp3)
Paul Weller - Out Of The Sinking (Mp3)
Paul Weller - Broken Stones (Mp3)
(Dates, stats, and quotes for this section of Wellerweek derived from The Complete Adventures of The Style Council, Shout To The Top: The Jam And Paul Weller, and Stanley Road Deluxe Edition)