Album Review: Paul Weller – ‘Wake Up The Nation’ (Island)

Album Review: Paul Weller - 'Wake Up The Nation' (Island)


Our Godlike Genius 2010 casts away the laurels in favour of fresh, fiery songcraft on this riotous, inventive rebirth

Take a moment to compare [a]Paul Weller[/a] to his 1977 classmates, and you’ll find that nowadays everyone’s either dead, virtually senile or beyond caring. [b]Sting[/b]? Plays the lute. [b]Geldof[/b]? No chance. [b]Mick Jones[/b]? Content with backing up [b]Damon Albarn[/b]. Even [b]Lydon[/b]’s decided to revive his role as the fairy godmother of panto punk for the 1,056th time.

True, there are some ([b]MacGowan[/b], [b]Costello[/b]) who still apply themselves with a certain level of dedication to their initial cause. But none apart from Weller actually appear that arsed about writing songs – damn fine ones – anymore. He’s just about to turn 52, and [b]‘Wake Up The Nation’[/b] is his 10th solo record. It’s a collection of ludicrously fresh-sounding, short and sharp material (the majority of tracks are under two-and a-half minutes) that confirms he’s in the midst of a seriously impressive rebirth. This period of reinvention took shape with 2008’s [b]‘22 Dreams’[/b], but whereas that album coerced the listener into a woozy, acid-flecked slideshow of sprawling psychedelia, [b]‘Wake Up…’[/b] pushes classic British beat, mod, funk and R&B. The songs are homely and familiar, but Weller’s delivery – he made up many of the lyrics on the spot – is gloriously imperfect; lending a remarkably youthful and frankly often drunk-sounding edge to proceedings.

Critics will continue to lambast his insistence at keeping various ex-[b]Ocean Colour Scene[/b] members in loafers by employing them as his backing band, but here Weller also works with a stellar line-up of some of Britain’s best session musos (and, on one song, his cousin Mark). They’re a ramshackle bunch, old and young – from 70-year-old Tornadoes drummer Clem Cattini to The Move’s Bev Bevan to Barry Cadogan of Little Barrie, who unleashes mesmerising Townshend-esque guitar on album closer [b]‘Two Fat Ladies’[/b]. Even more jaw-dropping for some, perhaps, is the inclusion of one [b]Kevin Shields[/b]. But what’s really so shocking about that? Weller’s always been a studio nut, and [b]‘7 & 3 Is The Striker’s Name’[/b] simply melds the best of both artists’ wayward palettes.

Recently separated from his girlfriend of 13 years, and mourning the death of his beloved father and manager John, [b]‘Wake Up…’[/b] is also Weller’s most personal record in years, possibly ever. He sounds wounded throughout. Recent statements from the man himself about its lyrics suggest otherwise; that he’s of the Noely G opinion that one man’s beermat poetry is another’s Magna Carta. But you’d have to be deaf not to realise he’s addressing issues here. In giddy honky-tonk opener [b]‘Moonshine’[/b] he’s “a bag of nerves”, while there are tears during the majestic Dean Parrish swoon of [b]‘No Tears To Cry’[/b]. [b]‘Andromeda’[/b] – which houses Weller’s sweetest melody in years – sees him darkly announce, [i]“My mood gets lifted with the gravity’s pull/Looks like I’m smiling but I’m dying too”[/i].

Meanwhile, [b]‘Trees’[/b], is probably the world’s shortest rock opera too – five segments in even fewer minutes. We veer from a kitsch lounge opener (sung from a youthful female perspective), to Weller adopting a hilariously fey, flowery voice, to (Dr) feel-good pub-rock and eerie, windswept laments about his old man growing old, before finishing with a 30-second burst of Weller alone at the piano, begging nature to [i]“Take me back to the fields/Where I need to be”[/i]. As eulogies go, it’s as touching as you can get. Indeed, the track’s madcap nature is also the perfect summation of [b]‘Wake Up…’[/b]’s genre-shifting beauty.

[i]“Fire and skill”[/i], our man spat in 1977. After three decades, he’s still at the top of his game – still reinventing, still chasing melodic perfection. Only difference now is that he’s pretty much on his own; nobody else flits from style to style with as much ease and precision. Modlike and Godlike – [b]‘Wake Up…’[/b] shows just how lucky we are to have Weller.

[b]Matt Wilkinson[/b]

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