B>'Heliocentric'[/B], his fifth studio album, is a place of everyday earthly experience - there's a whale, there's a [I]"wanker"[/I], and of course, there's wood...
The title may be cosmological, might mean to measure things from the centre of the sun, but for Paul Weller the reason to get up so high in the first place is just so you can get a better look at the earth. ‘Heliocentric’, his fifth studio album, is a place of everyday earthly experience – there’s a whale, there’s a “wanker”, and of course, there’s wood. Weller’s had wild wood, had live wood. Now he’s here with intermittently glorious pretty good wood.
That there’s the appearance of an acorn in the lyrics of the first song on ‘Heliocentric’ tells you that everything is much as we left it in Weller’s musical garden. Allied to the natural, the acoustic (he’s working here with Nick Drake’s string arranger Robert Kirby), the things of enduring value, for those who look to Weller hoping he’ll rekindle the vigour of his – and their – youth, then this is going to be disappointing. His funeral pyre may be long-extinguished. His larger creative fire, though, continues to burn.
What’s been overlooked a little is that in his way, Weller’s still a modernist. If modernism is in part about providing an abrupt change, a contrast to preceding styles then Weller – who went, let us not forget, from acid house to arrive at stuff like this – has made a fair effort. His friend Robert Wyatt remarked he, “makes new furniture seasoned from old wood”. Oasis may have burst through it, but it was Weller who fashioned a stoutly old-fashioned door through which they could make their entrance.
‘Heliocentric’, then, is unselfconsciously very woody indeed. No wonder Weller’s stung by criticism (he offered the NME reviewer of ‘Heavy Soul’ out for a fight), because this LP lays its cards down face up on its traditional and highly polished table. A song about a hero (‘He’s The Keeper’, about Ronnie Lane from The Faces), a song for his daughter (‘Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea’, which let’s face it is called ‘Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea’), ‘A Whale’s Tale’, a song where Weller becomes a hunted and harpooned whale – whether he’s writing about himself as fan, dad, or massive waterborne mammal, Weller’s a model of ingenuousness. He’s reached the point where dressing it up as something it’s not just seems like a waste of time.
Though it’s an admirable quality, this unpretentious peace of mind inclines itself to comfort, and that’s what defines rather too much of ‘Heliocentric’. Historically, the best Weller has come from restlessness, and comfort runs through this album like a shaggy fitted carpet – these are all, pretty unsurprisingly, good songs, it’s just that for the most part (the exception being the mad and excellent ‘There Is No Drinking, After You’re Dead’) they are very much of one pace and one type. Mid-paced and comtemplative songs. Mid-paced and contemplative sort of a bloke. Though he stirs himself to address the “wanker” (one presumes a journalist) in ‘Back In The Fire’, the impression ‘Heliocentric’ gives is of a man less driven by bile, than to treat his music as a restorative walk in the country, a place he goes to relax.
There, in the small village Weller, church bells chime and people grow like plants. Consequently, if ‘Heliocentric’ proves to have a larger function in Weller’s career then it may be for him to look around its pleasant surroundings, ask if this is really where he wants to live for the rest of his life, and maybe consider a change of scene. The city, perhaps