October 14, 2010 - 7:30PM
From: The Sydney Morning Herald
Paul Weller's rage may have cooled dramatically but creatively he's on fire.
SOPORIFIC has never been Paul Weller's style. Those Jam singles still bristle like broken bottles. Never mind their chic lemon pullovers, even the Style Council spiked yer latte with potent leftie dissent.
Nor was nodding off an option during Weller's Heavy Soul '90s — a decade in which, by rights, the former Red Wedge advocate should have been strumming the confessional acoustica of the elder statesman.
So when he chooses to call his 10th solo album Wake Up the Nation, you have to wonder what more incendiary stuff he can possibly have up his sleeve.
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"People ask me why I don't write overtly political songs any more but, if I did, they would be the same language, the same words and songs I wrote 20 years ago," he says. "What else can I say on that subject?
"Wake Up the Nation encapsulates what we wanted to do creatively; to build something new and daring and not safe. There's so much that is so corporate and so safe now. There are very few people taking chances. Most people are scared to.
"So the idea was to turn people on, excite people, maybe as a kind of calling to other bands as well, to snap out of this torpor and try and make music exciting again."
Wake Up the Nation finds Weller on a creative roll after his warmly embraced album of 2008, 22 Dreams. He had intended to take a long break after the world tour that rocked Melbourne in August that year but his collaborator, Simon Dine, kept sending him strange and beguiling demos.
"He was the catalyst," Weller says. "They were just little ideas, potential backing tracks, I guess, and once I heard them that was it, really, because they were so exciting — just the ideas, the musical prospects."
Few of the 16 songs on the album travel much past two minutes. Within three tracks, the mood shifts from the trippy astral wander of Andromeda to the circus organ travelogue of In Amsterdam to a very Jam-like reunion with bassist Bruce Foxton, Fast Car/Slow Traffic.
"I was just writing in the studio, reacting off the music that I heard, just making up lyrics on the spot, making up [melody] lines," Weller says. "Normally I'm a very ordered person but this time I had nothing. It was scary sometimes but exciting as well. It was a real open canvas to work on."
One of the more telling lyrics is She Speaks, a song to the sea that began forming in his head on a Spanish beach several years ago.
"The metaphor I was going for was something about the more you try to find yourself, delve into yourself, the less you really discover," Weller says. "Sometimes you just have to end up swimming, enjoying the water. To some extent that's the only answer you can find."
If the gently ebbing outlook seems a little at odds with the angry young agitator of new-wave legend, there are good reasons: Weller is no longer angry or young — although he does sound sad that he can't hear anyone answering that description coming up behind him.
"I think it's hard for musicians to take a political stand today," he says. "Music is symptomatic of the climate that we live in and because the politics has become so mainstream and wishy-washy, I think music has come to reflect that.
"[During] the period of Thatcher and Reagan and the whole right-wing turn the Western world took at that time, it was much easier to know where you stood. You were on one side or the other."
So if Wake Up the Nation were to have the desired effect, what would it sound like?
"From my point of view, as a musician and an artist, just to hear a bunch of 17- and 18-year-olds smashing down all that's going on at the moment — the bland, mainstream musical culture and media thing — that would be fantastic," he says.
"Of course, I'm thinking about what happened in '77. That hasn't happened over here for a long time and it's what we need."
Paul Weller plays the Forum Theatre on October 26-27. Wake Up the Nation is out on Island Records.