More about: Paul Weller
There is always the question at the back of your mind when listening to a new album from an iconic artist: “is this actually good or is it actually shit and I’ve kidded myself because of who wrote it?” It can be compared to having two white plain T-shirts next to each other but agreeing to pay £20 more for one because it’s got a tick or three stripes down the side of it.
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With On Sunset, that question is thrown straight in the bin along with all your plans for a summer of festivals. If there is beauty to be found in this strange period, it can be the new perception of everything around us. A whole range of albums have now had a whole new context sprung upon them.
If pre-pandemic, this album was a tailor-made soundtrack to a massive 2020 summer, it is now a dreamscape where the mind is allowed to take a wander and forget it’s been sat at the same desk, staring at the same wall and wearing nothing but pants and flip flops for over three months. 2020 might be the year that time froze, but once again, Paul Weller is the only one that refuses to stand still.
From the offset, he lays down the marker for this latest album with ‘Mirror Ball’, which pulsates, quickens and stops like an audio patchwork blanket. This is Weller at his creative best, with the blanket creating an escapist vibe for what is his most well-rounded work in recent years.
Where the singer has kept at the forefront of British music is his reluctance to settle on one sound or a certain identity. ‘Old Father Tyme’ takes this record into a blend of sunshine-soul to the fizzing of a hi-hat that infused early disco tunes. The track has an enticing warmth that is poured beautifully throughout the rest of the record. The instrumental ‘4th Dimension’ again delves back to the 70s, with a buoyant bassline and dreamy keys combination that wouldn’t look out of place on a Barry White compilation, before unwinding into a whirring space-scape.
It is perhaps a touch on the side of disappointing when ‘Equaniminity’ enters the fray, which since an obtuse presence in an otherwise smooth catalogue of songs touched by the hand of dreamy soul. It’s slow trudge descends into a gyspy-folk string section before plodding on to the point where you’re begging to dip your toes back into the sweet sounds found elsewhere on the record.
Thank mod for ‘More’ which gives us exactly that – a track layered to perfection as sax gives way to stirring strings and flute. This track refuses to let up and shows Weller’s years of experimentation and self-professed need to sample, explore and branch-out. It is seven minutes of brilliance.
Weller churns out another effort that breaks the six minute mark with the title track. This time, he cuts loose and eases into a bed of bongos, lazy guitars and talk of swaying palm trees, warm breezes and…sunsets. Elsewhere, we are brought back to earth from a complete summer haze by‘ Ploughman’, where Weller treats us to a really stomping tune, with militaristic drums providing the framework for soaring guitar and organ underneath.
On Sunset is the purest reflection of a man comfortable in his own skin, confident in his artistic reach and assured in each experimental risk that seemingly clicks into place as he quips on ‘Village’, “all the things I’ve never been, I’ve never seen, I don’t care much”. For those Love Island viewers among you, Mr Weller says “it is what it is”.
This is an album somewhere between 2017’s eclectic A Kind of Revolution and the peaceful ease of 2018’s True Meanings. It is a record that reinforces the “Modfather” as the elder statesman that somehow still dictates the final word on “cool”.
On Sunset is out now via Polydor.
More about: Paul Weller