With music, as with all things in my life I tend to run hot and cold for extended periods of time. I literally own albums I haven’t listened to in a decade that, for no reason I can discern, I will dust off and then wear out for months, listing to virtually nothing else. I’m the same way with purchasing new music. Sure, if it’s a group I love I’ll get an album on the day it is released, but beyond that very top of the heap, I’ll just sort of make a mental note and get back to it- eventually. Well, “eventually” arrived about two weeks ago. In this last fortnight I’ve added seven new albums to my collection. Today I’d like to take a look at each of them, starting with the two I bought on the day that they were released.
Paul Weller: Saturns Pattern
First off, as every review will tell you, the “typo” in the title is intentional. Why? Who knows? Moving on.
Paul Weller has been at this for a LONG time. Weller, 57, was in a legitimate working band by the time he was 15 and by 19 The Jam had recorded their first album. The Jam broke up in 1982 mainly because Weller was creatively restless. He then went on to form the largely forgettable Style Council- in six years they probably record an album’s worth of good material over the space of five albums and some of those songs were actually written while Weller was still in the Jam.
Since 1989 Weller has been a prolific and successful solo artist, but as the years passed new material started to fade into the background as he began to release numerous live collections (all great, but still…), collections of cover songs (a bit more hit and miss, but still with a few gems, most notably his cover of Gil Scott Heron’s “The Bottle”), greatest hits albums, etc.. Clearly, a change was coming and it was one that was needed. The result of this was three albums between 2008 and 2012 (22 Dreams, Wake Up The Nation, and Sonik Kicks), the first two of which were brilliant in their own idiosyncratic ways, and the third which was, in my opinion, unlistenable, an album of “sentence fragments”- but the critics loved it so what do I know?
Saturns Pattern is Weller’s fourth album since making a decision to shake things up and it works on every level. He’s cut loose the experiments that failed, he’s hung on to those things that his always enriched his music (an obsession with obscure 1960s and 1970s American soul music), and the songwriting and instrumentation is rock solid. The easiest way to explain the change is to say that he has expanded his palette- this album is aurally rich and lyrics are not quite as straight-forward as what we’ve come to expect from him going back almost 40 years. Oh, and it rocks-
The Proclaimers: Let’s Hear It For The Dogs
Charlie and Craig Reid may not be everybody’s “cup of tea,” but they are most assuredly mine. Their first, brilliant, album came out when I was a freshman in college and with the exception of a seven year hiatus after their third album (divorces, the death of a parent, etc. caused that) they have never disappointed. Have their been albums that took repeated listens to “get?” Absolutely. But through it all they’ve blended punk (lyrically), country, soul, early rock & rock music with politics, social issues, popular culture, “Scottishness,” and ups and downs of personal relationships in a way that has been wonderful to me- and others.
This time around they cover everything from the growing of their children into adulthood, aging, the Jimmy Saville pedophilia scandal, last fall’s Independence Referendum, religious bigotry in the West of Scotland, and the disconnect between the morals of those at Westminster and those who live “north of the border.” Best of all, the lyrics which cover these topics remain almost unsettlingly clever- more than once while listening to this album I’ve snapped to attention and thought, “What did he just say!?” Many of these topics are also covered in songs that are more “up tempo” than we’ve come to expect from the Leith duo- I won’t say that the “rock,” but you’ll be tapping your toes a little more quickly than you have in the past.
I think the best thing I can say about this album, the reason I know that they’ve “done things right” is that the only negative review I could find of this album was from…wait for it…The Times of London. Well of course it was. I’ll also be waiting eagerly for the boys to announce their U.S. tour dates, which sadly doesn’t look like it’s going to happen until early 2016! Check out the first- kinda cool- video from the new album, which appears to feature a young Teller of Penn & Teller on keyboards- who knew?
Next time, The Real McKenzies and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.