Tuesday, June 10, 2008

22 Dreams by Paul Weller

I have followed Paul Weller's career since I was in my teens. The Jam were my favorite band at that time in my life. Going Underground and Town Called Malice epitomised my sense of disillusionment with Thatcher's Britain. But there was always more to The Jam than agitpop. There was a tender romanticism too, expressed in songs like English Rose and Dreaming of Monday. When The Jam split up, I stuck around for Weller's next phase as leader of the Style Council. Although the band was slated by many Jam fans, some really good songs were produced in that period, such as Long hot summer, Speak like a child and Shout to the top. But for one reason or another I lost interest in what Weller was doing at the end of the Style Council years, as it seems did almost everybody else. Until that is the launch of his solo career, which coincided with the advent of Britopop in the 1990's. The man who inspired the likes of Blur and Oasis was back on form. His third solo album Stanley Road is full of classic Weller songs notably, Changing Man, Porcelain gods, and You do something to me. Thereafter the "modfather" has produced a series of so-so albums with some good songs, but nothing much to write home about.
So, what of 22 Dreams, a double album that takes listeners on a musical journey through the seasons? With 21 tracks and a deluxe edition that comes with a hardback book and an extra CD of "Demos & the Like", it certainly bucks the trend of throwaway downloadable pop. Musically, this is an ambitious piece of work. The thought of hitting 50 must have rejuvenated Weller's longsuffering muse. Each song is quite different. Styles vary from the folk influenced opener Light Nights to the impressionistic piano-led instrumental, Lullaby Fur Kinder. Weller returns to his soul roots in Have you made up your mind? The more rocked-up numbers buzz with energy and life, notably title track, 22 Dreams, Push it along and Noel Gallagher collaboration, Echoes round the sun. The famously grumpy Weller even manages to sound rather joyous when leading the chorus of "Ba da ba da bampa" on The dark pages of September lead.
Weller has been derided as a purveyor of "dad rock" for sad old 30 and 40 somethings (what's wrong with that exactly?). Invisible, one of the slower songs, sees him reflecting on the ageing process. With greying hair, he senses the colour draining from him, making him feel increasingly invisible. At least you've kept your hair, mate! Why walk when you can run? is a touching piece, inspired by the singer seeing his son run along the beach towards the sea while on holiday. As far as this dad is concerned, it is one of the best songs on the album. But not all tracks are to my taste. The foray into electronica on the instrumental 111 does not really work. Weller is no Thom Yorke. Where're Ye Go has a nice interplay of piano and violin but the vocal melody is repetitive and underdeveloped. The spoken word poem, God makes some good points about people only calling on the Almighty when they need him. But Weller's attempt to bargain with God belies the fact that his "God" is not the gracious and loving God of the Gospel. The Christian God freely offers us salvation and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to give us new life and hope. Interestingly, God gets the final credit for "rain, thunder and elements" on the atmospheric closing track Night Lights. This is appropriate enough, given the CD's fixation with the rhythm of the seasons (Genesis 8:22). In all this is an intriguing and enjoyable album from Paul Weller, a mature but still restless changing man. 22 Dreams deserves its current place at the top of the UK album charts.

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