When Paul Weller decided to finally pull the plug on The Stale, I mean Style Counsel in the late 1980’s, he spent the next couple years drifting around in a state of musical limbo, unsure of what it was he going to do next. All of that changed of course with the release in 1992 of his excellent self titled solo album. But it wasn’t until the follow up, Wild Wood, that Weller truly found his voice and calling.
Although I was already familiar with The Jam, or at least what I heard on the radio (there weren’t any record stores where I lived), it wasn’t until this album that I truly began to appreciate the man’s talent. And what better place to start than with the deluxe edition – two CDs overflowing with extras, including demos, B-sides and BBC tracks, making this a veritable treasure trove for any Wellerite out there in the world.
Recording itself took place at The Manor, what was known as a residential studio in Shipton-On-Cherwell, near Oxford, in other words a place where everyone involved could get pissed and stoned and make music whenever they wanted to without to go anywhere. Weller himself admitted to having been listening to a lot of Traffic, Van Morrison, Crosby, Stills and Nash and even Nick Drake. Joining him on his pastoral voyage was David Liddle (Lead Guitar), Jacko Peake (Flute and Horns), Marco Nelson (Bass), Steve White (Drums), Steve Cradock (Guitar) of Ocean Colour Scene, along with several other musicians.
Opening with the Humble Pie influenced “Sunflower”, Weller manages to channel the ghost of Steve Marriot, where everything sounds so natural and organic, from the electric guitars to the flute, even the actual chord breaks. In other words, everything works, and is a song that is familiar and fresh all at the same time. The spiritually yearning “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)” is another terrific tune, and one I just never seem to tire of. Likewise the title track “Wild Wood”, an exquisite acoustic number, and which is easily one of Weller’s finest songs, not only on this album, but any other by him. “Instrumental 1” is a quirky, funky little intermission before “All the Pictures on the Wall”, an affecting paean to lost love, followed by the full on rock of “Has My Fire Really Gone Out?”, where Weller seems to be posing a question to either himself or his critics.
The redemptive and heartfelt “Country” sees Weller on 12 string acoustic, while lines such as “I know a place not far from here/Where life’s sweet perform fills the air/And if you want I’ll take you there” merely adds to the song’s bucolic beauty. “Instrumental 2” comes and goes ahead of the soulful, and horn-heavy “5th Season”. “The Weaver” proved to be a popular single, and another timeless classic, where all Weller said he wanted to do was “write a good pop good”, and that he certainly did. After a brief instrumental interval, we have the acoustic folk outing of “Foot of the Mountain”, followed by the rousing and uplifting “Shadow of the Sun”, where Weller adds all the right ingredients to come out with yet another timeless rock anthem. “Holy Man (Reprise)” is just as it says, a reprise of that tune, which fits in perfectly, while the charming and tender “Moon on Your Pyjamas”, a sweet lullaby with jazzy undertones, is the sort of thing to listen to by soft lighting when sitting next to a loved one.
The first reissue of the original LP ended with “Hung Up”, a hit single, and deservedly so. The song itself is a kind of hybrid of the Beatles and The Small Faces, in other words, the first time you put it on you’ll feel as though you’ve already heard it even though you haven’t.
The rest of this edition comprises a choice selection of tracks recorded live along with an assortment of tightly focused demos, which should be enough to sate even the most obsessive of fans.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Wild Wood went all the way to number 2 in the British charts, and suddenly Weller found himself at the forefront of a traditional rock revival in England, with the likes of Oasis, Johnny Marr, the Stone Roses and Verve all offering their praises. It also brought some older fans of The Jam, who had abandoned Weller when he embarked on The Style Council, back to the fold. At last it was OK for many bands in England to celebrate that country’s rich pop/rock legacy from the ‘60s and early ‘70s. And while Weller may not have been solely responsible for such a grassroots revival in popular music, with Wild Wood, he definitely gave it a much needed kick start.
In 2007, Weller himself observed: “Everything seemed exciting, fresh and new. It was almost like starting over. I wasn’t making Wild Wood for anyone else. I was making it for myself. And it was a very positive and creative time. I have very fond memories of it. There was a party vibe, drunken nights and stoned nights.”
Which is just how a rock album should be made.