It's never too long between Paul "The Modfather" Weller albums. Yet the starlet's prolific solo output over the last decade or so hasnt often reached the artistic heights of his work with The Jam or The Style Council. While consistent enough, recent projects have been marred by a certain complacency - a tendency to settle for the middle ground instead of the soaring, surprising heights of yesteryear. But on 22 Dreams
, some of the old punk fire returns. Buoyed by a stellar Britpop cast including former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon and Oasis members Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer, 22 Dreams
is the sound of Weller finally taking an unexpected artistic leap after a series of steady steps. Working across a wide range of genres--rock, funk, soul, free jazz, krautrock, classical music, electronica, even spoken word--Weller presents an hour-plus odyssey full of eccentric surprises and loveable chaos. From the blue-eyed soul of "Have You Made Up Your Mind?" and the eerily brilliant "Echoes Around the Sun" (a Weller/Gallagher collaboration), to experimental offerings such as "111" and acid-folk opener "Light Nights", Weller digs deep into his magician's hat, and pulls out rabbit after rabbit. Some of the more off-the-wall moments--"God" for example--won't be for everyone, but the way everything collides together in a haphazard, devil-may-care manner serves to remind us that we should never write off our beloved veterans you never know when theyre going to take an unexpected artistic risk.--Danny McKenna
For many artists clocking up a half century would be time to stop and take stock. Maybe do the box set thing and release a 'tribute' album of all your own faves. But hold on... Paul Weller's done all that. Which means that with 22 Dreams he's free to go wherever he will. And he does just that. Joined by producer/arranger Simon Dine as well as regular cohort guitarist, Steve Cradock, the two keywords to this album must be 'variety' and (gasp) 'fun'. Yes, Woking's finest son seems to have loosened up and just let the tape roll. The result is a bucolic joyride through his strengths and some very new territory indeed.
Despite reports to the contrary, old school fans will find the usual traits in place among the cosmic jazz and Tom Waits piano balladeering: The Small Faces, Traffic, Curtis Mayfield and John Martyn still figure large in the album's landscape. The difference is that here it's less a slavish, didactic desire to fight for rock of yore; it's just where he's at (man). And by opening up the studio to his friends he's also allowed the old genres to be transmuted. Have You Made Up Your Mind may be all Superfly on the surface, but Simon Dine's strings add a fascinating sheen of 60s kitsch. And just listen to John McCusker's fiddle on opener, Light Nights. The truth is: despite the clothes horse trappings, Weller has matured into a fine FOLK singer.
Some may find the 'experimental' moments such as the Mellotron wiggle of 111 (supposedly influenced by Keith Rowe and AMM) or the closing meander of Night Lights hard to take seriously. Yet while Song To Alice (a tribute to Alice Coltrane, featuring Robert Wyatt on cornet) may cause true jazzers to snigger, it still touches new frontiers for the artist. And how many artists can you say form a link between the Canterbury avant-garde and the Britpop of Noel Gallagher (here on Echoes Round The Sun)? This has to be a good thing.
Naturally, some moments (as on all great double albums) just don't work. The cod-depth of the spoken-word track, God, is never going to lodge itself in the hearts of even the most dedicated fans and Where'er Ye Go comes close to sounding like a Bruce Springsteen demo. Also the title track may make any remaining members of the Electric Prunes reach for their lawyer's phone number. But taken as a whole (as he insists it should be) it becomes a multicolour ride through some of the most charming British rock/folk/soul you'll hear in ages. In one fell swoop he's thrown off his dour image, ushering in a host of new fans by delivering the best solo album of his career. Not bad for a 50-year-old institution. --Chris Jones
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PAUL WELLER 22 Dreams (2008 UK CD album - Recorded over the course of a year at Pauls own Black Barn Studios in Surrey 22 Dreams is a 21-track kaleidoscopic tour de force incorporating rock funk soul free jazz krautrock classical spokenword electronica and all stops in between; with guest appearances from Noel Gallagher & Gem Archer [Oasis] Little Barrie and Graham Coxon; and includes the AA-side single Have You Made Up Your Mind / Echoes Round The Sun)