Paul Weller’s career has always ebbed and flowed between the incisive and the pastoral, one minute joy-riding through a town called Malice, the next punting soulfully down the Cam. So, after a recent burst of cutting-edge inventiveness on the likes of ‘Sonik Kicks’ and ‘Saturn’s Pattern’, it’s no surprise to find him kicking off his moccasins, dialling in a string section and hitting 60 in full-on folk mode. ‘True Meanings’ is his ‘Nebraska’, his ‘Sea Change’, his ‘Flaws’ by Bombay Bicycle Club.
It’s a somewhat disappointing twist to a career that’s been taking far less predictable turns of late and, as is the way of such things, ‘True Meanings’ tends to blend into a lilting mush over the course of 14 tracks that rarely stray from the beige end of the sonic palette. Ageing rockers who decide to do a folk or country record should always ask themselves, “Is this as good as Elvis Costello’s ‘King Of America’?” – and think twice if it’s not. Still, Weller’s enough of a master craftsman to keep the quality consistent and include the odd spark of variety.
Opener ‘The Soul Searchers’ has touches of fado guitar, soul organ (courtesy of The Zombies’ Rod Argent), the steely strings of a ‘60s detective drama and a guest spot from Villagers’ Conor O’Brien, who also provided the song’s lyrics. ‘May Love Travel With You’ is a gorgeous evocation of the kaleidoscopic cinema of cult ’30s/’40s director Busby Berkeley. ‘Books’ rides in on a sitar flurry and ‘Come Along’ is lusty fairground blues, Weller purring, “Wondering what is going on underneath that dress” at some poor sucker’s girlfriend, having clearly caught the ‘hornyoldbloke’ virus from Paul McCartney.
Otherwise, ‘True Meanings’ is a reflective, acoustic-led chill-zone, all moonbeams, wheat fields, twilight and unfolding memories. You’ll find yourself imagining between-track birdsong. Slipping between country grooves (‘Mayfly’, ‘What Would He Say?’), folk balladry (‘Gravity’, the lovely ‘Aspects’) and Bacharach lounge moods (‘Old Castles’, ‘Movin On’), it saunters by raising the odd flutter, most notably on ‘Bowie’, a touching tribute to the late Zigster, with words by Gawain Erland Cooper of Erland And The Carnival.
Even when handing his music to other musicians to scrawl their lyrical signatures across, Weller makes ‘True Meanings’ sound deeply personal and intimate. Very nice… now back to the game-changing.