Stay relevant. Challenge conformity. "Make It New."
All 3 things we can attribute Paul Weller with attempting over the course of his musical journey.
In this piece I want to pick out 7 songs by PW, that for me, define the "Modfather's" constant evolution.
IN THE CROWD (1978)
The last track on side 1 of "All Mod Cons" the third Jam LP, is the first of my selections.
The first set of songs brought to the recordings for AMC were rejected by the producers, they were made up mainly of Bruce Foxton efforts, as Weller had hit a writer's block after second LP, "This Is The Modern World."
What Weller came back with was his best collection of writing up to that point, he'd taken a step forward, by allowing the personal into his wordsmithery.
After 2 long players, the band were comfortable in the studio and growing in confidence.
The better writing and musical confidence combined to create this first chosen song, with it's tip toey entrance and protestations at not wanting to be like everyone else, culminating in striking "away from the numbers" with a wailing backwards guitar solo.
There were other songs I could have taken from this album, such as "A Bomb," or "Tube Station," or "English Rose," as this album marked a breakthrough both commercially and creatively that led to massive success and adulation for the newly crowned spokesman for his generation.
Prior to the final LP release by The Jam, "The Gift," Weller had crafted some of the most lasting pop songs of that era. These included "Start," "Going Underground," "That's Entertainment" and several more gems still played on radio to this day.
On "The Gift" there was a notable shift in sound, on the chosen track and eventual swansong, "Beat Surrender" to a more soulful, Motown/Stax, driven sound. In fact the 12" release of "Beat Surrender" featured covers of songs originally performed by Curtis Mayfield and Edwin Starr, showing Wellers intent to move away from his current musical stylings.
On "Precious," the funk truly took over for the first time, with its sexually charged lyrics, horn section to the fore and extended close to the song almost bordering on jazz, a clear indication of what was to come beyond The Jam.
LONG HOT SUMMER (1983)
At no point before, or since, in my opinion has PW sounded anywhere near this soulful. This was a million miles away from where he was with The Jam.
It's rolling synth bassline and breathy lyric delivery from PW marks it out as a classic love song, strongly styled by the sort of soul music coming out of America in the early 80's.
The Style Council covered a multitude of musical styles in their brief time together and a lot of great songs were lost on an unappreciative audience at their time of release, although they still scored a number of hits including, "Headstart For Happiness," "Speak Like A Child" and "My Ever Changing Moods."
Quite recently my girlfriend was amazed to learn that this was by the same PW I had been listening to throughout our relationship, "just doesn't sound like him!"
I reckon he'd be chuffed with that?
PROMISED LAND (1989)
By the end of the 80's, whilst still part of The Style Council, PW had become engrossed in another emerging, underground scene, House.
88 had seen the second Summer of Love, with the explosion of raves and ecstacy.
This offered PW an opportunity to change and grow musically again, moving with the times and keeping his music fresh, was and would always be at the forefront of his thinking, truly modernistic.
When PW turned up at Polydor, with "Modernism: A New Decade," in all essence, a house album, it was rejected and PW found himself without a record deal for the first time since being signed by Chris Parry back in 1977.
After returning to the live scene as a solo artist and another spell of writer's block, he released the "Paul Weller" album, to some acclaim.
This seemed to open the floodgates and now the singer/songwriter couldn't stem the tide of creativity.
With the "Wild Wood" album, PW was firmly back in the mainstream.
"Country" has the feel of a man who has been around the world, twice, but still manages to find beauty in the landscape at the bottom of his own backgarden and wants you all to look around your own and find the peace he is in.
Entirely acoustic, PW urges us to "let go of the discontent you feel," and tells us to come "into the light out of the dark," as he himself has, at this point, done.
Beyond "Wild Wood," PW scored massive success with "Stanley Road" and continued to produce albums containing quality pieces, although none really had the prowess of those two standout albums.
By 2008 and with a new label, PW took a step towards introducing himself to another generation of fans, by releasing the fresh sounding "22 Dreams."
Only someone with more than 30 years of musical experience, could make such an eclectic sounding record work. The stylistic range covered on the 21 tracks is huge.
The selected track, a spoken word piece about the loss of faith, backed by a folk guitar, simple drum pattern and distant chorist offers up a 2 minute and 3 second insight into the self belief PW knows he has to fall back on, that he has his creativity.
And thus we arrive, at complete recording freedom.
"Trees" is absolutely bonkers, but PW, if anyone right now, can carry it off.
He sings varying parts, a caring mother, a beautiful lover with long brown hair and a cock hard fella, all leading to his final declaration of "take me back to the fields/where I need to be/so once again I can stand tall/and feel once more/a tree!!"
The current album, for me, is the best of his solo efforts, simply for it's ambition and to still have that fire burning after all his time is a lesson to us all.
Always stay true to what you believe in.
As a piece, this has to go down as a little hero worshipping, but hopefully someone may read it and decide to look into Paul's past or present, once more or again.
But one thing that surely cannot be disputed is Paul Weller is one of the greatest musical icons these islands have ever produced, with a body of work to match anybody else you want to put in your top 10.