Paul Weller turns his back on rock for more sophisticated climes
Having spent the latter part of the ‘70s and early ‘80s championing the virtues of punk-rock with The Jam, when Paul Weller decided to embark on a completely different journey altogether, one which looked back to the ‘60s for inspiration, it came as an immediate shock. In 1984, when being interviewed by NME, Weller stated: “I will shy away from rock now, because I don’t think it’s got us anywhere. I don’t wanna play rock music or be involved in it anymore.”
And so after dissolving The Jam, he decided to get together with Mick Talbot to form The Style Council, an outfit (for want of a better word) dedicated to sailing through hitherto uncharted waters, or for Weller at least.
The first fruits of this collaboration was debut Café Bleu, a fusion of breezy cocktail jazz, Brit-funk and smooth ‘60s soul. At the time of its release, many critics complained that the LP was too eclectic, and too varied. Music writer Lynden Barber wrote: “The Style Council have made a fairly mediocre though reasonably agreeable entrance into the pop arena.”
But now, more than thirty years after the fact, was such negativity justified? Probably. Yet Café Bleu, like a lot of things that were once derided, has actually aged rather well, unlike other contemporary albums such as Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom or Wham!’s Make It Big.
Three of the five tracks on side one are instrumentals (there are five in total), something which must have had many a hardcore Jam-fan spitting at the album cover. “Mick’s Blessings” (written by Talbot) is a bouncy little number, while Weller gets all reflective on the soulful late night sounding “The Whole Point Of No Return,” before breaking out the brass a la Blood Sweat And Tears via Soho on second instrumental “Me Ship Came In.”
The album quickly changes tack again with the soothing title track, a blend of classy strings and some chic jazz guitar reminiscent of Pat Metheny. “The Paris Match,” sung beautifully by Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn, is one of Weller’s finest ballads, followed by another excellent composition in the form of “My Ever Changing Moods” which, despite the title, is actually an extremely sprightly pop-soul tune. The version selected for the LP, with only Weller and piano, is far superior to the full band recording that was released as a worldwide single.
“Dropping Bombs On The Whitehouse” may not be the sort of song title one would pick in today’s current political climate, but title aside, this jazz instrumental is one of the coolest of the entire album. Not so the experimental rap “A Gospel” which, depending on the listener’s tastes, was either a brave attempt at adapting elements of the New York black dance scene, with older elements of funk and jazz (two other black inventions), or an act of white stupidity.
“Strength Of Your Nature” charges along in a white-funk kind of way, before Weller sets free his inner Marvin Gaye on synth-soul cut “You’re The Best Thing.” “Here’s One That Got Away” and “Headstart For Happiness” are both feel-good ‘60s inspired pop tunes updated for an ‘80s audience, replete with horns, uplifting sunny chorus etc.
Last track “Council Meetin’” could be Booker T meets Georgie Fame, thanks to Talbot’s dexterity on the Hammond Organ, and which seems a suitable exit to what is overall an extremely well crafted album, one that has surprisingly stood the test of time.