A marker of his 60th birthday, recorded in three-and-a-bit creative weeks.
Paul Weller ★★★★ True Meanings PARLOPHONE. CD/DL/LP
SOME OF the explanation for Paul Weller’s pastoral, acoustic-ish side lies in such elemental influences as The Beatles, The Kinks, and Small Faces. It’s also instructive to think about his roots in Surrey, and a home turf that straddled suburban sprawl and the green belt. Whatever, music with a bucolic aspect has been part of what he does from the beginning: go back to 1977, for example, and listen to Tonight At Noon from The Jam’s This Is The Modern World, an evocation of love and rural scenery light years away from his punk contemporaries. Now, 40 years later, this facet of his art is given full rein, to repeatedly wondrous effect. The title of Weller’s 26th album seems to serve notice of a journey into its author’s soul. The quiet, plaintive voice he decisively found on 2017’s soundtrack to the boxing movie Jawbone lends some of the songs an affecting sense of intimacy and vulnerability; some of the lyrics seem to attest to existential angst, and intimations of mortality. Glide looks back to a time when “all the fears that kept you awake/At night, were strangely calmed”; the narrative voice in the impossibly elegant Gravity wants to “Find the child inside of me… This rusty key will set him free”, only to be regretfully pulled back to earth. “Oh gravity,” Weller laments. “It follows me/Wherever I go.” Up close, though, the idea of a 14-track acoustic (ish) confessional doesn’t quite add up. Four of the songs have lyrics written by other people: one from Conor O’Brien of Villagers, three by Erland Cooper of Erland & The Carnival, including Bowie, an elegantly oblique tribute to its titular subject. And for all the hints of melancholy, there are also contrasting moods: the celebration of lust in Come Along (which features those great English virtuosos Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy), and the uplifting themes of Movin On, May Love Travel With You and White Horses, the triptych of great songs that closes the whole thing. True Meanings’ triumph, in fact, is the way it explores an array of mindsets, themes and textures while staying true to its signature sound, in the manner of a great singer-songwriter album from the golden age of such things. The keynote elements are restraint, acoustic guitars and gorgeous orchestrations. Mayfly’s flecks of R&B hark back to Broken Stones; in a different form, Old Castles might have found its way on to either The Style Council’s early records or their swansong, Confessions Of A Pop Group. That said, the amazing thing about this almost flawless record is the way it alights on an entirely new air of depth and fascination, in keeping with its author’s age and experience: a real feat, which once again puts Paul Weller in a field of his own.