Electribal Memories ’98

How did Weller fad to the grey area he's in today?...

HOW DID WELLER FADE TO the grey area he’s in today? From raging, disaffected voice of the suburbs, to his current solo career (from which this hits compilation is taken), most of which is redolent of [I]The Old Grey Whistle Test[/I] on rainy nights circa 1978? And how has he persuaded so many of his fans to follow him down this mundane road to middle age?

Weller fans are a strange lot. Many of us are uncharmed by his ‘ever-changing moods’ (morose, tetchy, morose again). His fans, however, regard him with the same sort of mesmerised awe that a rodent would have for the Pied Piper. Were Weller to take up morris dancing as his next musical career move, his fans would doubtless respond, “Whatever you say, Weller!” and at once commence attaching milk-bottle tops to their hats.

You can see what Weller’s trying to do: cobble together a gruff rock/soul that recalls the days of ‘real’ music (Curtis, The Small Faces) before faceless electronica came along to confuse lovers of authenticity. But the resultant efforts are pointlessly trad and sulkily subdued, like home-built woodshacks constructed by a Luddite hermit.

The track order here is non-chronological. ‘Out Of The Sinking’, ‘Peacock Suit’ and ‘Sunflower’, though taken from different albums during the ’90s, all sound like they were recorded for the same demo tape, Weller’s guitar playing all fingers and thumbs, like he’s grappling gamely but unsuccessfully with the chords in the Joe Cocker songbook.

His homage to Curtis Mayfield is most evident on ‘Above The Clouds’ and ‘Broken Stones’ and, in fairness, he’s got the imitation down pat except for one element the anguished joy that made Mayfield more than the sum of his parts. Curtis Mayfield attempting ‘Going Underground’ would make as little sense as these efforts.

There are one or two good moments. ‘Uh Huh Oh Yeh’ has some of the restless energy of old and dares to use the studio a bit, while ‘Wild Wood’, constructed around a simple piano riff, is probably his best, most affecting song. But overall, Weller is clumsily affected rather than affecting, as on the fiercely ordinary ‘The Changingman’.

It’s because he’s a mod at heart, hence the title of this album. Ever since The Style Council, he’s believed he possesses style, pizzazz, a flair for pastiche. He doesn’t. He’s a fumbler. His quest for gleaming chrome Vespa authenticity is doomed by his inability to shine. For the most part, ‘Modern Classics’ is small faeces.