Paul Weller has been responsible, in whole or in part, for some of the best records of the past 40-plus years, starting in the late 1970s with his first truly successful band, The Jam.
The Jam, which hailed from Woking, Surrey, about 25 minutes from London, burst upon our shores with The Clash and The Sex Pistols in the first wave of British punk bands to take America by storm.
With The Jam, which was actually closer to bands like The Kinks and the Small Faces than it was to other bands in that first wave, Weller racked up a whole string of chart-topping singles in the U.K. but did not quite replicate that success on this side of the Atlantic.
Weller soldiered on in the post-Jam years with former Dexys Midnight Runners/Merton Parkas keyboard playerr Mick Talbot in The Style Council, a band that won the collective hearts of many with a sound that drew heavily on American soul music and R&B and occasionally ventured into jazz.
A steady stream of solo projects has filled the years since Style Council, some of which did extremely well, like 1997s “Heavy Soul “and 2012s “Sonik Kicks”, which debuted in the U.K. charts at No.1.
Weller has been cited as a major influence by a whole slew of artists, from Oasis and Coldplay to Ocean Colour Scheme, the Stereophonics and The Verve.
All of which brings me, after a fashion, to “True Meanings”, Weller’s 14th solo record and his 26th studio recording over all.
Initially I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this record because it is so very different from his previous efforts. But, it soon began to grow on me, and now I find I can’t get it out of my head.
What makes this record so different for Weller?
Several things, not the least of which was Weller’s decision to make a record which follows a much more reflective path than some recent offerings with a series of songs that focus on aspects of love and loss and trying to remain hopeful in the face of things which might prompt some people to do otherwise.
“True Meanings” shows a lighter hand musically as well. It leans toward the acoustic, with some lovely acoustic guitar work from folk music icon Martin Carthy and some beautiful string arrangements that enhance Weller’s music but never overwhelm it. It comes closer than any of his previous records to being considered a singer-songwriter-style record.
Vocally, Weller, who turned 60 this past May, sounds great. His voice has aged well. He’s got great range and still has power when he needs it, though he’s not trying to rattle the rafters with this material.
Weller brought a lot of people on board for these sessions.
In addition to Carthy, other players augmenting his regular band include Zombies keyboard player Rod Argent who plays Hammond organ on “The Soul Searchers” and mellotron on “White Horses”. Double bass player Danny Thompson, another folk music legend, is also on deck as is Noel Gallagher of Oasis fame. Little Barrie plays lead guitar on”Old Castles.”
Weller wrote 14 songs for the record but brought in other songwriters to pen the lyrics for four of those songs. Erland Cooper from Erland & The Carnival, contributed the lyrics for three tracks, “Bowie," “Wishing Well” and “White Horses”, while the lyrics for the remaining track, “The Soul Searchers," were penned by Connor O’Brien from Villagers.Weller produced all but two tracks on the record, which was recorded in just over three weeks at his own Black Barn Studio.
This is record to sink into your chair and savour like a good meal.
(Rating 3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.