PAUL WELLER’S 21st CENTURY PROGRESSION from becalmed dad rocker to effervescent pop alchemist has upended much received wisdom about Rock Elder trajectories, but even some of his staunchest supporters wondered if he’d overdone the HRT when, after the organic and tender 22 Dreams and the fizzing, multivalenced Wake Up The Nation, 2012’s Sonik Kicks delivered some incongruously theatrical, even camp, flourishes.
But while Weller is not immune to bombast, he can usually be relied upon to self-correct. And so it is with Saturns Pattern – a modestly sized, nine-track snapshot of the singer in a more appealingly inward phase.
Always an idol (it’s why Weller is “Paul”– he was born John William), Paul McCartney returns as a welcome spirit guide, present in the spacey, distorto-voiced grind of White Sky (the album’s sole credit for psych mix nut jobs The Amorphous Androgynous) and the wistful jaunty piano that drives the quirky, radiant title track and the poignant, multipart Going My Way. Meanwhile, Macca echoes more generally in an atmosphere of what the-hell musicality that’s typified by the playful Pick It Up, which begins as a kind of Beta Band shuffle until Hammond surges, Spanish guitar flourishes and wubba-wubba noises submerge it in primordial psych soup.
“It’s odd to think of Weller as a guru of something other than haircuts, or shoes.”
Here, and in the more aggressive Long Time, a familiar Weller theme emerges: that of having it, losing it, and finding it again, whether that’s the self confidence required to create or the mooring of a seemingly solid relationship (“birds of a feather still fly away…”). Phoenix digs still deeper, in a soulful statement of the latter-day Weller’s homespun pantheism, the titular symbol of renewal given wings by sun-drenched jazz-rock of tactile richness, laden with Tame Impala-esque shimmer. It’s perhaps odd to think of Weller as a guru of something other than haircuts, or shoes, but this developing interest in the cosmic and ineffable is the measure of what some might dare to call his ‘personal growth’.
Or has he just smoked a big spliff and chilled out? There’s certainly a newly relaxed vibe abroad here, a sense that anything might be allowed to happen, and results tend towards the quietly strange and pleasingly enigmatic. They’re qualities best summed up by the unfathomable In The Car, where Weller’s narrator tools “round and round the M25… front or backseat, I don’t mind” while its bedrock blues-rock choogle sounds like it’s sporadically gate-crashed by Erik Satie. It’s a kind of musical serendipity echoed in eight-minute closer These City Streets, a bittersweet, gently swinging thing spiced with another out-of-left-field intervention: the jazzy violin of Syd Arthur’s Raven Bush. As the song fades out, Weller and co are revealed blithely chanting, “You’ve still got a way to go”. Still searching, still discovering, it’s Paul Weller’s perfect motto.
Watch Weller’s track-by-track interview here:
And listen to the title track here: