Fans of The Jam, take note: Former leader Paul Weller‘s new solo album, Wake Up the Nation (Yep Roc Records), harkens back to his days when he was an angry young man eschewing punk rock nihilism for a more focused social commentary.
Nation is edgy and unrefined — and that seems to be the intent. “Moonshine,” the opening song, begins with a blast of distortion that leads into a fiery piano reminiscent of Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople. Just like many of the 16 tracks on this album, it ends abruptly at just a little more than two minutes and comes at you like a bullet that breezes past your head.
“She Speaks” works well as a short blend of mod/New Wave sensibility aided by My Bloody Valentine‘s Kevin Shields on guitar and former Jam member Bruce Foxton on bass. Many of the other songs –- such as “Fast Car/Slow Traffic” — just begin to hook you when they wind down and stop.
“In Amsterdam” and “Whatever Next” are interesting fillers that lead nowhere, and there is an overall sense that most of the songs were composed by rote, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t well-made or interesting.
“Aim High” and “No Tears to Cry” stand out, but on this album, the gems are few and far between. Longtime collaborator Steve Craddock solidifies the content of the production with his guitar, bass and drum work. Bev Bevan (The Move, Electric Light Orchestra) delivers some buoyant percussion on the two opening tracks, but — like Shields and Foxton — his contribution to the album is too minimal.
Weller’s songwriting is in a class of its own, and for a vast majority of the time, it is more serious than frivolous. Wake Up the Nation is an interesting departure from Weller’s latest efforts (such as 22 Dreams), but it never quite achieves the polish or high standards that he holds himself to.
— By Donald Gavron