Fat Pop volume 1 (Universal)
While this album has been out about a month now, maybe you missed it as I did in the flood of new and often extremely good releases 2021 continues to offer. If that’s the case, you too have a lot of enjoyment ahead.
Recorded during lockdown (his second release in less than a year, suggesting he hadn’t just taken up macramé while confined), released during an unsteady and uncertain return to nothing like normal, and made by a man for whom restlessness is as much a byword as stylishness, this is the kind of record you don’t realise you need until you almost automatically put it on the third or fourth time straight, and you start nodding your head and smiling within seconds.
Why? The answer may be in the name. The Fat Pop to which Paul Weller refers may only be known to him, but on the evidence here I would say he may as well be referring to the width of his musical interests and the flavour enhancements of his ability to write a bloody good song. This is as pop as he’s been in a good long while.
Weller is as comfortable inside the almost caressing slow soul of Glad Times, with the church choir backing vocals and strings nodding to Philadelphia more than Woking, as he is with the back porch, Euro-country of Cobweb/Connections, with its handclap rhythm, Spanish guitar and more than a touch of Cat Stevens.
He can start the album with what sounds like some cockeyed electro Ian Dury, if he’d been backed by a laughing Depeche Mode rather than The Blockheads (Cosmic Fringes), and end it with a kind of grand Dusty Springfield interpretation of a Curtis Mayfield consciousness-raising song (Still Glides The Stream).
The guiding principles seem to be musical and emotional clarity - pop songs that feel intimate but not weighed down. While the albums he’s made in the past decade have been consistently inventive and adventurous (and regularly pretty great), Weller has often challenged casual listeners to stay the course, or adjust on the run.
This time, while the styles change song to song, the appealing comfort is pretty much unchanged.
The late ‘60s Britishness of Moving Canvas (think city blues adjusting for psychedelia), the Abbey Road Beatles of Shades Of Blue and the compassion of Still Glides The Stream make their intentions – connection first and foremost - clear, just as the hippie groove (oh the flutes!) of Testify, the White Album Beatles of Failed and communal encouragement of Cobweb/Connections, do.
And any time you want you can dip into the title track and imagine a world where Grace Jones could have taken a turn to Bristol in the ‘90s for an Unfinished Nipple To The Sympathy.
He’s good this bloke. Just keeps finding new ways to be interested, and old ways to be refreshed.