True Meanings (Parlophone)
The softly attractive gem that is True Meanings is further proof that Paul Weller – gloriously, perhaps belligerently, but more likely with a shrug of “that’s just how it is” - doesn’t give a fuck what you expect of him.
In fact he probably takes what you expect of him with as much interest as he does yet another question about a Jam reformation (hint: ain’t gonna happen).
It may sound incongruous to say this about an album which is in the main gentle, often acoustic, carrying more than a whiff of the woods around a low-level urban setting in Surrey, tipping its hat to folk jazz, and not just comfortable with strings but keen to use them for more than emphasis or grace notes.
But in truth it is apt precisely because this is an album which is in the main gentle, often acoustic, carrying more than whiff … etc.
In recent years Weller’s albums have ranged across psychedelic rock, powered pop, Germanic electronica, heavy soul – this after returning to the fray in the late ‘90s by showing the Britpop generation just where their bread and butter was sourced - and a few other elements, such as Latin funk, that suggest less a restless mind than a voracious consumer and explorer.
As his Australian shows earlier this year showed, the last thing this 60-year-old man is is prepped for retirement or the musical equivalent of hot cocoa and a slice of buttered toast. A big, swinging appendage album was probably what was expected next then. Yeah, right.
From the elegant sweep of May Love Travel With You, whose arrangement owes a debt to Alex Stordahl, one of Sinatra’s favourites, and the mid ‘60s supper club swing of Old Castles, to the post-chanson ballad feel of Aspects and the ruminative Books, with its touches of sitar, violin and an echo of the gracefulness of Vashti Bunyan, there are quiet pleasures to be had.
Not only quiet but relaxed, in a way that Weller doesn’t always allow himself – or hasn’t much really outside a few moments such as English Rose and the warmer passages of Style Council. Take Glide, for example, where the flow is unhurried beneath him and his voice has the conversational tone of a man sipping tea on a river bank. Or even the soul jazz-ish Mayfly, where Weller swells with the low impact brass, builds with the gradient of a Memphis love song, but remains content in its corner of the song.
In Gravity, Weller is so tender you hear the father, grandfather and son in him all in one, but all those men in adult mode are present too in the desire-flecked folk waltz of Come Along. That part of him hasn’t retired either, if you get what I mean.
And then there is the fan, admirer and colleague who subtly suggests moments from the edges of Hunky Dory around the respectful shape of Bowie, a song that serves as more than a tribute.
Such a pretty record probably deserves a companion record, so well does Weller succeed here. However, it should not come as a surprise that apparently Weller already has the next album in the can and it’s going to be big, rocking and wholly different. But then what did you expect?