Paul Weller – More Modern Classics

Paul Weller - More Modern Classics

Paul Weller – More Modern Classics

Sifting through reviews that attempt to categorize Paul Weller’s More Modern Classics, released on Harvest Records  (2014), and halted by jeers from reader receptions that run something like  “this load of waffle left me fucking clueless” and  “stop this pile of piffle and tell us what we’ll get for our hard-earned”, I do feel pressure to get it right.  But before we begin, a pause to set the frame.  It’s Weller’s most recent 15 years of work that is most prominently displayed on this compilation.

Another compilation at this point in Weller’s career smacks of industry greed.  Or does it?  Another compilation could go either way: further validation to his impressive body of work, or further spoils for the label.  Beginning with The Jam (1976-82), Weller moves on to The Style Council (1983- 89) and from there, to a solo career as The Paul Weller Movement (1991) and then as Paul Weller ( 1992) with the success of Wildwood (1993) followed by Stanley Road  (1995).  There will be eleven studio albums, five live albums, forty singles (excluding-re-releases and collaborations), and three extended plays.  Contrast these achievements to the music industry shill that routinely comes and goes, as much as it self-destructs, and there is something incredibly valuable, precious even, about the ability of an artist to pull from their own backlog from over thirty years of work,  as Weller is able to do on this second compilation.  Having written Pretty Green, the anthem about money, power, and the mechanics of establishment antics, it is incredulous that he walked away, and kept reworking it,  when he could have had it easy enough back then.  Haven’t critics repeatedly cried foul over how arduous and taxing these last 15 years have been for us Weller fans?  Just play That’s Entertainment or Friday Street again, right?   (By the way, Weller has released a limited number of  tour dates this fall. If at all possible, he and band-mates are not to be missed).  This is not to say those are not great tunes, because certainly, they are.  But, Weller himself may have wanted for more.

And, if you read the liner notes on the recent compilation, the years between 2000 – 2014 proved important experimentally to Weller’s music.   More Modern Classics archives these years in unique ways. To the sound mix and production of this era, Simon Dine and Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert are credited on almost every track recorded here.  Joeri Saal, Steve Cradock, and Charles Rees are also featured prominently in this era. The first track, He’s the Keeper is dedicated to Ronnie Lane of The Small Faces.  This is a touching tribute to a songwriter himself,  and a man who Weller sings’ “… is the keeper of the lantern…his rusty armour, so undervalued” clearly a very important inspiration to Weller’s overall career,  and a very beautiful tune.

From here, the compilation chronicles key moments from Heliocentric, Illumination, Studio 150, As Is Now, Wake Up the Nation, Sonik Kicks, and a wide selection of non-album singles from 2006 – 2011, and the new single, Brand New Toy, which sees a return to a varietal style of songwriting with rattling, hissing, whistling percussive flourishes  that meet upbeat piano rhythms throughout – it’s a playful, lively tune much like the lives inside it.  Some might call this “New British Popstyle”.  That we can hear, and then feel and care about Billy, Milly, Suzy and Teddy in some way, and that this song builds to its’ rising refrain “Now it’s plain to see, you were meant for me, I’m like a brand new toy that you bought for me”, shows something new, by way of the old, and of course,  Weller’s ace: his songwriting abilities.

So, what did I get for my hard-earned?  I got “the art of the 45”, something at which Weller says he had to be clever.  Many of the singles on More Modern Classics are brand new to me.  Of special note is “Starlite” with its hypnotic beat and nautical lyrics, I’ve been listening to it all summer as if it were new.  Something new from something old builds on that idea of a modern classic.   And then, it’s the other two cosmic songs that make the list for me: “It’s Written in the Stars” (also beat driven, hello Billie Rae Calvin and that lovely, lovely harp) and “Wishing on a Star”.  To Weller’s career – the words prodigious and capacious come to mind.  There’s no shortage of material.  More Modern Classics puts the last 15 years, at least, into perspective.