Paul Weller‘s 11th solo album, Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc), is not so much a departure as it is a potent fusion of musical styles from one of rock’s most viable and unpredictable songwriters. On his new album, the ex-Jam and Style Council leader tries to touch as many bases as he can, from punk to soul to techno and beyond, in a bold embrace of sound and fury.
Punctuated by sharp, stinging guitar phrasing, the opening tune, “Green,” jump-starts the album and lets the listeners know what they’re in for. “We wanted that motorik, Neu!-influenced sound,” Weller states in the album’s accompanying press release, and he continues this motif throughout the succeeding tracks.
“The Attic” is a bouncy pop composition. The underlying strings and Hammond organ treatments would have fit well on any album by The Style Council. On “Kling I Klang,” Weller has nailed the Krautrock sound that he was aiming for without drowning the song in an avalanche of noise.
“By the Waters” is a kitchen-sink workingman ballad that is vintage Weller, brought together by an excellent string arrangement. “So long you bum/You can get your work done/Come now beside the waters/Sit and rest” is a yearning for a respite from the daily drudgery of life.
“That Dangerous Age” is an up-tempo lament that continues the middle-age hero theme. “And when he wakes up in the morning/It takes him time to adjust” the lyrics reveal. “So sick and tired of the money/And all the life that is lost.” Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, according to Henry David Thoreau, as so often people do in Weller’s world — with a few “shoop, shoops” thrown in for good measure.
“Study in Blue,” the album’s longest track, has a funky bass line and a sprightly Wurlitzer piano accompanying the impressionistic lyrics, which Weller describes as “a straightforward love song.”
“Dragonfly” grew out of a poem written by Weller’s youngest daughter, Jessie (who is credited on the song). Marco Nelson plays bass and Blur‘s Graham Coxon plays guitar and Hammond organ on the track.
“When Your Garden’s Overgrown” is an homage to Syd Barrett, the iconic founding member of Pink Floyd. According to Weller, “Noel Gallagher [of Oasis] plays guitar and bass on it, I think.” That comment is open to interpretation.
“Around the Lake,” clocking in at 2:12, is a concentrated deluge of sound built on a bedrock of Krautrock rhythm. Weller effectively plays with the lyrics to create a dizzy gothic feel. “There’s a vacuum/in the backroom/of a ballroom/in the dark.”
“Drifters” (co-written by long-time collaborator Steve Craddock) is another standout track — a flamenco-tinged rave with feverish guitar bursts and a driving batterie of percussion.
“Paperchase” starts out as a delicate arrangement, and then morphs into a synthesized Middle Eastern ballad with a Led Zeppelin trace-like quality bordering on psychedelic. Weller reportedly had the late diva Amy Winehouse in mind when he wrote this song: “Paperchase, paperchase/You can’t hear the words at all/When you’re in your free fall.”
“Be Happy Children,” the closing tune, is a celebration of family unity with some vocals by Weller’s young children Mac and Leah, done in a stylish production that gives more than a subtle nod to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield.
Experimental may be too diffuse a term to describe this latest offering from Weller. Taking nothing away from his last two releases (22 Dreams and Wake Up the Nation), this is Weller’s riskiest and most visionary album in years — and although many fans may accuse him of emphasizing sonic effects over substance, there is an abundance of pleasurable kicks here to keep the Modfather’s fans extremely satisfied.
— By Donald Gavron