A Kind Revolution (Parlophone/Warner)
Two words explain why there shouldn’t be a surprise here.
Whenever I think about how restless and inquisitive Paul Weller is, how in his late 50s he is still finding ways to reshape his songs and his sound, how prepared to be difficult and yet tuneful and powerful and interesting he is – all as a prelude to me telling you how good this album is, and it is - my wonder is cut short by this: Style Council.
It’s been more than three decades but there’s still life in that shock felt when the king of new mod, the frontman of the biggest pop rock group in the UK, a survivor of punk who was telling some of the best British stories, chucked it all in for a new venture making jazz/pop and agit-funk in boating shoes, slim sweaters and homo-erotic filmclips.
And doing it very well too.
Having returned to guitar rock at the turn of the century in a move that seemed to give an imprimatur to the retro-rock which had sprung up in the Britpop years, Weller could have stayed on the “true” path. He made some good rock and soul/rock records too.
But check out the past four Weller albums and the adventure is as impressive as the results. He explored krautrock rhythms, folk, elements of dance, huge sonic beds, harsher studio noises, electronica, and rock and soul too.
It wasn’t always easy for everyone and for that reason A Kind Revolution may be an apt title. For this is a highly accessible amalgam of several of those directions, full of songs that are not hard to grasp or hard to love at all.
She Moves With The Fayre, is not, despite the ye olde spelling, some trad folk number. It is instead a funk-jazz blend which pushes its slippery James Brown-meets-Herbie Hancock groove into light headwinds of smooth backing vocals, dips into a mid-song appearance by Robert Wyatt, and emerges quite sleek.
Hopper, serves as a tribute to the great American painter Edward Hopper (“in late nigh bars the ghost of Hopper speaks in whispers only he can hear”) but also as a soulful, subtle look at acceptance of time’s passing, with more than a touch of a Hi Records production crossed with Bowie’s plastic soul in its sound.
Bowie’s ghost hovers in One Tear too. It’s partly in the gliding, fluid bass besuited pop that feels very late ‘80s (and makes perfect sense of the contributing dub-influenced vocals of Boy George), partly in Weller’s huskier voice in the verses, and especially in the art shapes of what could easily have been a simple bit of dance.
Elsewhere Satellite Kid puts in some strut under guitar lines which wind around your leg like a welcoming cat, while Woo Se Mama punches into thick grooves, and Nova updates synth rock and chucks it in with the Rolling Stones in the south of France while Long Long Road makes all the right Philadelphia International oohs, aahs and violins in the background of a rousing ballad that must surely be sung in a very sharp velvet outfit.
By the time The Impossible Idea ends the album with a buoyantly optimistic song which feels both un-rock (you can just see Weller, in pantaloons, and Deborah Kerr dancing around a palace to this) and post-Broadway (glimmering sounds, acoustic guitar), A Kind Revolution has won you over without ever looking like making you fight to resist.
A neat trick to pull off. Almost as impressive as turning Woking into Nice 30-odd years ago.