Paul Weller – ‘On Sunset’ review: his 26th record is a bold and forward-thinking new statement

This warm and experimental release suggests the Modfather's purple patch shows no signs of fading – even the reflective stuff is innovative

Paul Weller’s consistency is a thing to be revered. It has been well over a decade since he recorded a bad song (his befuddled and bland version of ‘All Along The Watchtower’), let alone a bad record. Everything from 2005’s ‘As Is Now’ onwards has been at the very least solid; more often than not it’s been excellent. It’s to be admired that, some four-and-a-half decades into his career, he remains so intent to never, ever phone it in.

Read more: Paul Weller: “I’m trying different things as much as I can – time is of the essence, man”

Yet in recent years there’s been a cloying sense that Weller could still be pushing things that little bit further forwards. He recently told NME that his tastes are getting more and more avante-garde, but for the most part his material has long been reliant on established rock, soul and folk tropes.

Which is why the first moments of his 15th solo record ‘On Sunset’ are so thrilling. The opening track ‘Mirror Ball’ is one of the most adventurous things he’s ever written, an eight-minute epic that starts with a heavenly drift of soul and then disintegrates into fragmented found sound, where creaking, mangled vocals and juddering sub-bass mingle with the sounds of braying barnyard animals and a ghostly applauding crowd. Then, Weller emerges from this maelstrom with a rush of soaring melodic pop, piling on more and more texture – a hint of chucking funk, shimmering electronics, scuzzed-out guitar solos, even a G-funk whistle – until the whole track becomes vast and stunning.

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It is, in short, one hell of a way to start a record, let alone the 26th of your career (The Jam and The Style Council included). Though it’s disappointing when the next track, ‘Baptiste’, falls back onto summery soul, the opener sets a precedent for the experimental flair across the rest of the record. This experimentalism in the psychedelic flourish in the middle-eight of ‘Village’; the lush, extended prog-soul jam at the end of ‘More’; and the trippy electronic pump that forms the spine of the excellent ‘Earth Beat’. Even the songs that look entirely backwards, like the Kinks-ish knees-up ‘Equanimity’ or the Bowie-inflected ‘Rockets’, are imbued with irresistible breeziness and charm.

It might not be quite the experimental opus you feel Weller’s still holding back, but that feels a churlish complaint when the songs are this well-written. There’s a lightness of touch and a tenderness at ‘On Sunset”s heart that makes a song like ‘Old Father Tyme’, the record’s soulful and brass-lathered centrepiece, on which the 62-year-old stops to take stock of a life spent pushing things forwards, just that little bit more bittersweet.

Details:

Release date: July 3

Record label: Polydor

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