Though he only released the superb ‘On Sunset’ last July, ‘Fat Pop (Volume 1)’ is Paul Weller’s lockdown record. Faced with no chance of performing ‘On Sunset’ live for the foreseeable future amid the pandemic, he instead delved into a vault of ideas he’d saved up on his phone, recording with his band remotely at first and then polishing things off with studio sessions over the summer.
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Weller’s made enviable use of the time. The album is a delight: a generous collection of expertly crafted pop tracks, delivered with both the finesse of an artist of five decades’ experience and the lightness of touch that only comes when you’re having a blast. Never has the Modfather sounded quite so at ease.
Opener ‘Cosmic Fringes’ bursts into life with a pump of slick electro-pop synth, Weller singing with playful braggadocio: “I don’t believe my luck when I see him in the mirror.” It’s followed by a sunny soulful track, co-written with Lia Metcalfe of rising Liverpudlians The Mysterines (Weller’s a fan of the band and wanted the two of them to sing together). ‘Moving Canvas’, meanwhile, pays tribute to brilliant Iggy Pop: ‘You meet his gaze and then you turn to stone,” Weller sings. ‘Shades Of Blue’ is a touching pop vignette co-written and performed along with his daughter Leah. This might be in some part an isolation record, but it’s one that reaches outwards, bathed in a positive, collaborative glow.
Weller’s accurately described the record as a collection of tracks that could work as standalone singles. It’s incredibly instrumentally diverse, skipping from the title track’s simmering trip-hop beats and ‘Glad Times’’ swooning orchestral soul to the gospel-tinged staccato jazz flute of ‘Testify’. Yet he doesn’t let all that genre-hopping prevent him from digging deep emotionally. The spiky, glitzy rock track ‘Failed’ is a self-effacing examination of personal flaws – ‘I’m just a coward when it comes to it’ – while ‘That Pleasure’ finds Weller voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The album closes with a sumptuous flourish, a concoction of Gainsbourgian strings, lavish piano, bells and brass adding grandeur to Weller and long-time guitarist Steve Cradock’s co-written ode to humanity’s overlooked and downtrodden.
It’s to Weller’s credit that these more plaintive and introspective tracks sit so smoothly aside ‘Fat Pop’’s more playful experiments. It means that for the second time in less than a year he’s released a record that can sit safely among the best of his long career. Weller’s current purple patch is growing ever more potent.
Release date: May 14
Record label: Polydor