Wake Up The Nation
Steve Jelbert , April 27th, 2010 07:49
Psychedelia never dies, and seeing as really it's a polite signifier of music that evokes the kind of drug experience that can't really be fitted in around a busy work schedule it never will. But it does shift, and right now a woozy wave of, er, chillwave has taken over from the wobbly Wilson lovers most recently been labelled thus. But there are still classicists out there, clinging to backwards guitars and unexpected brass stabs just like they did back when acid was still legal and adults wanted to be children rather than the other way round. Even now I'm surprised as how effective the underrated Aliens are when they pop up suddenly on my iPod, jumbling up generations of lose-yourself music.
Weller's new album does something similar, heading backwards in time and sounding all the better for it. 2008's sprawling 22 Dreams, also produced by Simon Dine, was over-praised, largely for its ambition rather any musical success. To borrow Samuel Johnson's opinion of lady preachers, it wasn't done well, but it was surprising to find it done at all. But Wake Up The Nation, lurid mod title aside, is a very different proposition. For a start it's mad, properly mad. I never thought I'd ever find the shared credits of Weller and Foxton again, let alone bolstered with a contribution by Kevin Shields. If Wellah wills it, it will happen. He wants that gleeful thump that powered all those old ELO records? Just enlist their aged Thatcherist drummer Bev Bevan. Hell, Clem Cattini drums on this record (doubtless still sore over being depicted by James Fucking Corden in odd movie Telstar) and he was knocking on when the Yardbirds were London's hottest new act.
Surely the only British musician whose name could be attached to a police sting (“Operation Paul Weller' has just the right ring, don't you think?), Wellah has ditched the dozy rural Traffic-isms that intermittently plague all his solo records and plugged straight into electric 1966. Alright, there are drum loops and the sort of random white noise that could be deliberate, or could be down to the failing hearing of an aging rock star. But at heart this snappy record- forty minutes, sixteen tunes- is both tribute and addition to a historic style. Underneath Weller's characteristically terse grunts are lush Beatles tributes played by men old enough to dissect effortlessly the songs they've loved the longest.
So the title track or the ponderous 'Moonshine' or the grinding 'Find the Torch, Burn the Plans' don't hold surprises but they are strangely alive. Genuinely odd is the sprawling, crudely edited 'Trees', his imagined tales of the past lives of the other patients in the residential home where he watched his father decline and die. It's clumsy, barely listenable really, but inescapably touching nonetheless. Plainer fare is provided by the sharp and grumpy 'Fast Car/Slow Traffic' that features Foxton (whose Porsche is up for sale on Auto Trader right now, incidentally), while 'Aim High' proves that Weller has yet to, and may never, truly master the soul ballad. But he certainly sounds like he's having fun trying.