“I’m obsessed with the craftsmanship of songwriting. I grew up listening to stuff like the Beatles and Motown: songs with a verse, a bridge that led into the chorus, a little middle eight just to change things up, then maybe a little solo or a key change. Those structures have stuck with me ever since.”
So sayeth the man. If Pete Townsend and Steve Winwood ever had a love child, it would be Paul Weller, a man who grew up on a heavy diet of English Rock and American Soul. As lead singer and guitarist of The Jam, a trio who were as politically charged as they were musically potent, Weller would subsequently reinvent himself in the ‘80s with the R&B infused The Style Council, before once again reinventing himself as a solo artist in the early ’90s, releasing three critically applauded albums in the form of Paul Weller, Wild Wood and Stanley Road. It seemed that Weller couldn’t put a foot wrong even if he wanted to. And so the quality continues with his fourth solo record, Heavy Soul, which in contrast to his previous efforts, is a far more stripped down and straightforward affair, basically just three blokes in a studio belting it out in honest and raunchy fashion.
The title track is the first one out of the gate, and with its hefty guitar chords and crashing rhythm section, it’s probably about the heaviest thing Weller had ever done up to that point (excluding with The Jam of course). The fact that his then marriage was on the rocks, it’s perhaps not all that surprising to find him venting his emotions in such a rough and ready manner.
The attitude continues with “Peacock Suit”, where over some tough riffs Weller declares “I don’t need a ship to sail in stormy weather/I don’t need you to ruffle the feathers, of my peacock suit/I’m Narcissus in a puddle/In shop windows I gloat/Like a ball of fleece lining/In my camel skin coat”. In other words, don’t mess with me, because I’m better dressed than you.
Weller steams up the windows on the semi-erotic “Up In Suzes’ Room”, and is a classic example of the way in which Weller can take so many already familiar elements and turn them into something unique and entertaining. “Brushed” thumps along although is marred by some rather annoying feedback as well other extraneous effects. “Driving Nowhere” would have made a nice B-side to any Kinks song circa 1968, which doesn’t mean it’s bad, but not necessarily good either.
“I Could Have Been There To Inspire You” has Weller wearing his heart on his sleeve, or piano in this case, expressing where it all went wrong with his wife, all done in that Steve Marriot fronting the Beatles kind of style. Which is probably the reason why it works so well, especially the instrumental “Heavy Soul (Pt 2)” that follows, and which provides an almost cathartic bookend to what must have been an extremely difficult breakup.
The Kinks-inspired “Friday Night” is next, with its simple and sentimental observation of people wandering around the streets, and how a night out can create memories that will last a lifetime. “Science” is another old fashioned rocker albeit in a subtle kind of way, with a riff that lingers like the sweet fragrance of Lavender in the sun. “Golden Sands” is a good song, but just doesn’t go anywhere, even if it does have all the right ingredients, musically speaking. “As You Lean Into the Light” is like something off Wild Wood but with a more raw, and harder edge. Turn the volume up, and it becomes a bitter diatribe dedicated to everything that is shit about life, but turn the volume down, and it becomes a peaceful and calming composition concerned with whatever is going on inside your head.
“Mermaids”, the last track, is your typical anachronistic rocker and is really nothing all that special if you ask me. But any listener might deem otherwise. In other words, an ordinary way to end what is an extremely enjoyable record.
On Heavy Soul, there’s little any fan of classic rock hasn’t heard before, but because it’s all done so well, any lack of originality becomes immediately irrelevant. Once again, Weller managed to produce a collection of (mostly) outstanding tunes, simple, though carefully crafted as only he knows how. And while his sources for inspiration might be firmly rooted in the past, I can’t help but think that that is why his music is so timeless and will endure through even the harshest of these digital winters.