Paul Weller's True Meanings (and 10 of his finest moments)
Paul Weller earned the nickname 'The Modfather' thanks to his role as a figurehead of the mod revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s while fronting his first band The Jam. But, while it's a title obviously conferred on him out of respect, it's also one that falls some way short of recognising the breadth and depth of his songwriting across a career spanning more than four decades.
Beyond a stint as frontman and chief songwriter in The Jam which produced six albums and a handful of chart-topping hits, Weller has also enjoyed success with neo-soul outfit The Style Council, as an accomplished solo artist. More recently, he’s also expanded his range to include soundtrack composer, scoring the BAFTA-nominated 2017 film Jawbone.
His most recent solo album A Kind Revolution was arguably one of his best in years and this week Weller returns with its follow-up. True Meanings is Weller's 14th solo album in total and provides something of a contrast with A Kind Revolution's sonic experimentation and upbeat rockers; the new album finds Weller in a more laid back and contemplative mood. Its largely acoustic-led songs having more in common with his 1992 album Wild Wood than some of his more recent output.
Co-produced by the man himself with help from recording engineer Charles Rees and mix engineer Jan Stan Kybert, the album is a mellow affair that supplements its acoustic guitars with lush orchestration and contributions from The Zombies' Rod Argent, British folk singer Martin Cathy and Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson. As with most of his recent albums, True Meanings was recorded at Weller's own Black Barn studios in Surrey.
With the album arriving in stores this week, and as a tribute to Weller's extraordinary 40-year career, we've rounded up 10 of his finest moments below...
Weller's first band The Jam were never short of critical acclaim, but they were anything but an overnight success and while several of their singles broke into the UK Top 40 it wasn't until the politically-charged 'Eton Rifles', taken from their fourth LP Setting Sons, that they broke into the Top 5.
Their next single, however, finally landed the band their first Number One hit. Originally intended to be the B-side to 'Dreams of Children', a labelling error during production of radio promo discs meant that 'Going Underground' was listed as the A-side, but it proved to be a fortuitous mistake as the song began gaining airplay from DJs and shot straight to the top of the charts on its release, becoming the first of four chart-topping singles for the band.
By the time of their fifth album Sound Affects, Weller had moved from his Woking hometown in Surrey and took inspiration from his new surroundings to create this slice-of-life observation. He once claimed to have written this largely acoustic number “in 10 minutes flat”, but that hasn't stopped 'That's Entertainment' becoming one Weller's most enduring compositions.
'Long Hot Summer'
When The Jam finally disbanded in 1982 it was, by all accounts, solely Weller's decision, one which he explained by saying: “I'm proud of what we did but I didn't want to dilute it, or for us to get embarrassing by trying to go on forever.” But Weller was clearly keen to broaden his musical horizons and teamed up with former Dexys Midnight Runners keyboardist Mick Talbot to form The Style Council. The opening track from their first release, a mini-album titled Introducing The Style Council, was evidence of his desire to do something completely different, a mellow, synth-led ballad that proved to be the perfect soundtrack for the unusually warm summer of 1983.
'Shout to the Top'
The Style Council's 1984 hit wasn't the first to exhibit how much of an influence soul music has been on Weller's songwriting – The Jam's earlier hit 'Town Called Malice' being a case in point – but 'Shout to the Top' is a fully-fledged modern soul classic and remains one of their best-known hits.
Weller's self-titled 1992 solo debut had been a somewhat tentative return to music after a few years of inactivity, and it was obvious from some of the album's more experimental tracks that he was still feeling around for a new direction, but the album was met with positive reviews and by the time he set about recording its follow-up, Wild Wood, he had clearly settled into a groove and was producing some of his best music in years. Opening track 'Sunflower' sets the scene nicely and is one of the best moments on an album that saw Weller return to his best and earn a Mercury Prize nomination for his efforts.
The title track of Weller's 1992 album is arguably one of his finest compositions and the soulful rasp of his vocals here are a far cry from the snarling menace of his days in The Jam, but his voice has never sounded so good and this track is proof that Weller's talents as a singer are every bit as impressive as his ability as a songwriter. Still a classic.
The opening salvo from his 1995 album Stanley Road, 'The Changingman' was co-written with producer Brendan Lynch and features a central riff that borrows heavily from ELO's '10538 Overture' (which, to be fair, itself owes quite a bit to the Beatles' 'Dear Prudence'), but it also remains Weller's biggest solo hit in the UK, peaking at No.7 on the UK Singles Chart. Reportedly written about his split from former wife and Style Council backing vocalist Dee C. Lee, the sing is one of the highlights on an album that is arguably his most accomplished solo offering.
There's barely a dud track on Stanley Road and we could just as easily have singled out the towering ballad 'You Do Something To Me' or the equally brilliant 'Porcelain Gods', but there's an understated brilliance to 'Broken Stones' that has helped make it one of Weller's most enduring hits, one which remains a staple of his live shows to this day.
'The Pebble and The Boy'
Hidden away at the tail end of his 2005 album As Is Now, 'The Pebble and The Boy' has a strong claim to being Weller's most underrated song. A piano-led ballad that gradually builds to a crescendo of sweeping strings, it's arguably the album's standout moment and the live version below, recorded at London's Union Chapel in 2013, is just superb.
'The Ballad of Jimmy McCabe'
Our final pick is this track released in 2017 as part of the soundtrack for Thomas Napper's film Jawbone, written by and starring Johnny Harris. Harris approached Weller to see if he'd be interested in writing a score for the film, and despite never having written a film score before he was keen to challenge himself, creating a haunting and emotive soundtrack for the movie which included this little number written about the film's protagonist, a struggling boxer.