Paul Weller has never liked being comfortable. He split The Jam at their arena-filling height, forced The Style Council to make a record label infuriating deep house record, and – by his own admission – split from a happy marriage with Dee C. Lee purely because “I might lose my edge”.
Perhaps the most recent iteration of this fearless/foolhardy – delete as applicable – aptitude was his decision in 2006 to completely overhaul his solo band. Out went the old, and in came the new, leading to some of his most daring, confusing, adventurous solo records yet.
‘True Meanings’ taps into this tendencies, while also resulting in some his most floral, poetic, soothing, and blissful songwriting. It’s a 14 song suite, a lush, at times orchestral folk-soul opus that pits Terry Callier against Nick Drake while emerging resolutely as the work of a punk kid from Woking. And yet it’s not all his work.
Opening cut ‘The Soul Searchers’ is, musically and lyrical, a virtual declaration of intent for the album itself, yet the words were penned by Villagers’ Conor O’Brien. It’s a sign of his openness to new ideas, to outside influences, with Weller commenting in the press note: “that’s what it’s about really, I always want to see what people can add to my ideas.”
Just reaching his 60th birthday, ‘True Meanings’ is the work of an artist who is able to bring enormous experience to the fore. The jazz-tinged lilt of ‘Old Castles’ is Pentangle meets Gil Scott-Heron, while the touching ‘What Would He Say?’ is this oddly introverted country shuffle.
The cryptic ‘Bowie’ vows to “make the best of every moment”, a vastly uplifting pearl with a pensive view of mortality. Is it the curious sight of a British music icon dipping his cap to another icon? Or advice to his son, also named Bowie? Perhaps both.
‘Wishing Well’ has a wonderfully hewn early 70s Neil Young vibe, a kind of Laurel Canyon lament transported to the Black Country. ‘Come Along’ meanwhile has a gorgeous but simple nursery rhyme feel, married to some of Weller’s most erotic lyrics yet. ‘Books’ radiates with inner peace, featuring some beautiful George Harrison style sitar-drenched wisdom.
The acoustic settings that dominate the album reach their apex on the undaunted, wonderfully ambitious ‘May Love Travel With You’, featuring the record’s most fully realised arrangement. Paul Weller’s voice dips and soars, rising almost breathlessly as horns undulate around him, a dramatic, choral, almost spiritual effect.
Curiously, the album opens and closes with the aid of other artists. The involvement of Erland Cooper on ‘White Horses’ presents a willingness by Paul Weller to step outside of himself, adopting fresh vantage points in order to re-define himself to seek out fresh areas to grow.
“White horses are taking me home,” he sings, lyrics that embody a sense of return, but only to know a place for the very first time. There’s a sense of tradition at work in ‘True Meanings’, without being slavishly traditional; continually taking chances, Paul Weller roots himself in a defiantly English soul lineage, one he himself has largely defined.
It’s a lengthy, beautiful work, and undoubtedly a late career high from one of the most important, courageous songwriters in the country.
- - -
- - -
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.