Music Reviews

posted: June 8, 2017

Paul Weller A Kind Revolution / Jawbone

Warner Bros. Records/Parlophone, LP or CD
Paul Weller

A legend in his homeland of England, Paul Weller remains something of a cult hero abroad. Perhaps it’s because he’s so hard to pin down. While best known for his work in the Jam and the Style Council—the former band a punk-rock update on the rhythm & blues-inspired rock of the Who and the latter a blue-eyed soul act (please note: these are extreme, Cliff’s Notes summaries of each group)—Weller has amassed a rather thorough and off-center solo career since the early 90s. His 13th proper solo effort, A Kind Revolution, shows that the scruffy-voiced singer, now in his late 50s, remains as restless as ever.

This year, in fact, may have been one of Weller’s wildest. Check that: Oddest. No doubt the late 70s, when Weller and the Jam toured with soon-to-be punk stalwarts the Clash, were crazier. But earlier in 2017, he released his first-ever film score to the British movie Jawbone, a work that follows a former boxing star whose life has sunk to near-irreversible lows.

Yet there’s perhaps another explanation for Weller’s under-appreciated nature in the U.S. and elsewhere. He has long zeroed in on tales of working-class British life, fitting into a tradition that extends from Ray Davies to Damon Albarn. One of Weller’s cherished albums remains 1995’s delicately bluesy Stanley Road, named for his childhood street. A Kind Revolution fits a similar mold, but has the state of global affairs on its mind. Far from a protest record, however, it finds Weller digging deep to uncover his inner optimist and claiming a celebratory, communal feel.

“Woo Se Mama” opens with a slightly pessimistic verse about modern stagnation but quickly expands with a gospel-like chorus and an organ aiming to boogie. Consider the tune a call to action—one on the level of a block-party exhortation. Likewise, “Nova.” At a time when political officials around the world continue to question scientific claims, Weller threatens to start over on a new planet. A slightly aggressive guitar burrows into the ground before the song explodes into a full-on R&B revue. A horn section swings, digital effects produce an appealingly hokey tone, and layered vocals lend a psychedelic feel.

Then Weller changes course. “The Cranes Are Back” begins with finger snaps and sparse keyboard tones reminiscent of 90s-pop-derived R&B. “We could feel the love once more,” Weller and a choir sing in the chorus, finding hope at the sight of a species long treading the line between existence and extinction. It’s a beautiful number, and delicate flourishes—an elegant, trickling piano, an arms-wide-open vocal approach, and quietly wailing guitar effects—appear throughout. “New York” touts a bustling blues feel thanks to a funk rhythm. “Long Long Road” takes it slow before expanding with an orchestral soul chorus.

One can find myriad examples throughout Weller’s career where he touches on all the assorted styles that grace A Kind Revolution. But is this a case of a veteran artist dabbling in the familiar or continuing to experiment? Recent evidence points to the latter. Look no further than Jawbone, which sees Weller tinkering with atmosphere and tone. While the soundtrack is better-suited for diehards, a track like “Jimmy/Blackout” feels extremely impressive, where rhythms sound as fragile as glass, a piano weeps, violins caress, and a guitar freak-out arrives out of nowhere more than halfway into the 22-minute composition.

Such freeness permeates A Kind Revolution. See the piano overture of “One Tear,” which leads to a gritty, spacious groove that would makes James Brown proud. And that says nothing of the circular atmospheres dotting the song. If Jawbone is a musical workout, in which Weller stretches and bends arrangements akin to an ambient composer, A Kind Revolution sees him applying those lessons to songcraft, resulting in a rock, soul, blues, and R&B record that eagerly skirts all those respective borders.

–Todd Martens