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I've liked Paul Weller for some time, having mainly admired from afar; just listening to and appreciating his music when friends played it. Having recently seen him in concert, I decided to just equip myself with his entire back catalogue.
A friend of mine who is a long time fan recommended Wild Wood to me as Weller's best album, more so than Stanley Road, which I shall also review shortly, and which he feels is overrated. Both are really great albums but I have to agree that this is Weller's finest release.
There were no tracks I had trouble getting into, and there were none I wanted to skip over. The instrumentals are lively and delivered with real heart and soul and gusto. It was easy to relax on the sofa listening to this, and also to have it on as background music although I much prefer giving it my undivided attention as I feel it deserves it.
I'd strongly recommend you buy this deluxe edition because the demos are a great raw, gritty take and a fascinating insight into the creative process. I also like remixes as included herein for a different take on songs you already know in their original context. This edition, as if it couldn't offer more, also has some previously unreleased material and some exclusive BBC recordings.
This album overall, to me, reminds me of a rockier, slightly cooler Jools Holland (don't get me wrong, I adore Jools Holland too); it's just so funky and upbeat, with some really solid lyrics in there. It's easy to sing along to and can create a great atmosphere in a room.
Being an avid fan of The Jam then naturally drifting into the cool romantic sounds of The Style Council, I was always apprehensive about Paul Weller out on his own. In my own mind, I had trouble dismissing the image of too short drain pipes and stripey shirts that once clothed the young and immaturely skinny Weller jumping uncontrollably to A Town Called Malice. Forever prepared to shake off anything other than Shout To The Top from his Style Council days, I really took the opportunity to readily cast aside the idea of listening to a more recent solo project such as Wild Wood.
Born and bred a Surrey man from the dull and uninteresting town of Woking and after the dizzy heights of The Jam, he formed The Style Council as far back as 1983. The elapse of time between each project was fast. The super stylish Council was mastered only a handful of months after the end of that sweet stuff they put on toast. Running in a new direction, and to Jam fans, a bitter pill to swallow, to Weller, the transition between the two had been purely natural. It is no wonder that the second transition from romantic, pop idol to hard spoken super stardom alone was just as free spirited.
Accompanying himself with Steve White on drums and percussion, Marco Nelson on bass and allowing himself to take the lead on almost any other instrument with keys left, Weller embarked on the deep, thought provoking music of his solo career. Wild Wood was to be his second album of his official solitary journey into an untravelled direction. I guess I am not the only Jam/Style Council follower who was less than pleased at this lonesome news at the time of May 1991 when he released his first single under the title of Paul Weller Movement, called Into Tomorrow. Obviously not well received, it only managed to skip lightly to number 36, unlike the miraculous walk gracefully into The Style Council, when on releasing their first single in March 1983, I Speak Like A Child flew with great ease to number 4. The Style Council had been welcomed with open arms by reluctant Jam fans and enthusiastic non fans of the previous Mod band.
Embedding the work throughout his career of the conscience of The Jam, a façade that had spoke out clearly on social issues of the time, including such head lines as the miners strikes, these thoughts of the world in which we lived in then seeped through the lyrics of The Style Council and perhaps, even stronger into his solo career. They say age makes you wiser and thoughtful, seeing the world through sceptical eyes as opposed to the rose coloured glasses effect, I say that age promotes opinions. We are far more likely to speak our minds with time because we simply dont care what the next person thinks. The fundamentals of Wellers work has been the foundations of this idea. We find, or at least, I did, that he speaks with a stronger voice especially in Wild Wood. If one can imagine Bob Dylan with twenty years taken off but with the collaboration of a decent band, then what we have is Paul Weller.
The demise of The Style Council had come to an intense end. Accused of becoming self indulgent in their political voice, it was determined that the band had said enough. The label, Polydor took the firmer hand and said a defiant no to another album from the band. Licking wounds, Weller sunk almost without trace from the pop scene. Deciding that a new approach should be taken if he was going to stay in the business, it was then that he decided on creating a different sound yet again. Perhaps hoping that if he was alone in producing compositions, it might control his political commentary within his work. It was certainly true that The Style Council was going to over step the mark on a number of issues if allowed to record any more. Their musical content had waned over recent albums and the idea of just making hit records had been strangled by the eagerness of telling authorities where to go through the lines of a song.
Wild Wood controlled him to a limit of not actually offending anyone in a suit. His work now had become more introverted and he looked from the outside in through his music. Stripping it down to the basic guitar based tunes. His voice as well as he being, not stood alone minus the violins, saxophones and drum machines of the powerful eighties. He mellowed his music yet, his words were stronger than ever before. Our front cover, simple and silhouetted, Weller sits with guitar in hand with head up in soulful moment. The inside shows us affectionate shots of days of being a Mod to headphones on, sitting at the mic in a recording studio, showing now a very different man. Older, matured and hard at work, it is effective in giving us a visual taste of the musical content within this album.
Now seeking the attention of the ordinary man on the street with all the same inner worries and fears as the next man, he gave us the thought provoking, mind moving, Wild Wood.
Released in September 1993, it trod on everything else in its conquest for number 2. These sensitive tunes are gift wrapped in tiny gems of instrumentals throughout the set. Due to the success of this particular album, a live version was released exactly a year later. More a live album, perhaps than a studio, the effect was probably greater than this album, yet still the strength is still there, so dont be afraid to tread where to feared to go before. Paul Weller is here within this album. So is The Jam and The Style Council. All these elements that make the man are affectionately attributed and are as strong as ever.
Sunflower opens this album with the air of Travis, and for a brief moment perhaps, we are a little disappointed. What we dont want to hear is another mid nineties pop album of some band trying to be out spoken and different but all we find is the green monster of commercialism prowling through at us. A single released in July 1993, it, to me , is probably not the best choice to open an album with. Something with a little more bite would have made a firmer impact. With its intro not dissimilar to The Changing Man, it glides into a rough guitar riff and a steady drum beat. The riff takes on a looped effect though the chorus in this whispered vocal theme. The note here is the beeps that occasionally pop up for a quick hello. The riff collects itself for a brief solo in a twisting sound effect where the graphic equalizer is taken for a walk around the block. An interesting track that starts fairly quickly as it began. Not real strong lyrical content to be noted although we hear the very strained unmistakeable vocals of Weller. Slightly depressing like the Happy Mondays on a Tuesday morning. The percussion element gives the track a even theme and perfects the track which, without, would be flat and boring. It is listenable but probably not memorable. What captures the spirit of this album is the noticeable drum theme throughout this track and beyond. A clever and energetic player namely Steve White, a musician who Weller used on a number of other projects.
Can You Heal Us (Holy Man) ? Takes on a different turn. In a Beatle- esque style as in the Walrus days, it is built on a Style Council theme with almost a hint of Dee C Lee on backing, except it is Yolanda Charles we hear instead. A heavy piece which opens with religious organ notes that drift in and out hand in hand with the gentleness of Kate Bush styled piano. A more distinctive track with soul searching backing vocals. A tad tongue in cheek, its theme seems to stem from inner worry and angst from the singer can you stop the killing? Get us back to love and healing..? A social wake up call from the artist who was famously known to speak his mind, it doesnt offend but it still holds the same thoughtful theme that was the basis of all Jam and Style Council records. Shove in a little hint of violins and swoonful lyrics and one would imagine that ones picked up a Style Council album by mistake. A lot of My sweet Lord, themes have been quenched in the making of this song. The chorus allows for some short lived foot stomping. Sectioned rather heavily, it is a taste of Weller from the early days. A pleasing thought that he hasnt totally forgotten his roots which has always been the basis of his fans devotion.
Wild Wood is perhaps the best known single of the album and was released without hesitation in September 1993. Strangely it only arrived at number 14, failing to climb any higher. A track probably more popular since its departure from the hit parade. Not often we see a country/folk theme in the singles charts. It was this shock to the system that put the public in a hesitant state. Perhaps, musically, too close to the knuckle. A track of this making rarely sees the top of the charts, if not produced by The Eagles or Eric Clapton, although, Clapton fans will find similarities within this track between Weller and their martyr. An anthem of sorts, it is the most powerful of all the tracks on the album yet its foundations are of a solo guitar. Opening like a Dylan track with a surprisingly melody. It will want to make you sit back on a rocking chair on a veranda somewhere out in the Mid West. A hint of a slide guitar gives it a full American theme. Strong, a touch of electric guitar of the Pink Floyd kind, we hear the first glimmers of violin accompliment. The drum beat is sturdy and entrancing and perfectly balances all sounds making this track solemn in its presence and sobering in its morality subject. Wellers voice takes a painful, heart broken turn and his notes are hard but not piercing. I defy you to not put down anything that you were doing at the time to listen to this track for was it is. A gut wrenching, spirit enhancing anthem that will, for brief second, force you to see the world and yourself in a analytical light.
The first of three instrumental pieces follows next, and after the intensity of the previous track, it is almost like a musical interlude between shows where the dolly bird trips round the aisles with a large tray of cigarettes and ice creams around her neck. Perhaps we would prefer to be served a cocktail to invite this track into a theme well suited rather than on a Weller album. Its all too Doobie Brothers and funky electric guitars for it to be a Weller theme. Who let the cast of Car Wash in for heavens sake? It doesnt fit, but if it meant that the band were taking a short break to psyche themselves up for the next powerful and poetic act, then we forgive them for this strange drift into the ultra lounge bar where the staff are Boney M.
All The Pictures On The Wall opens and the volume is not needed to be adjusted for this track as the song drifts in quickly and perhaps takes the listener by surprise. A disjointed drum theme like Not Fade Away, the vocal is tuneful and the hint of that black lady backing track comes into play yet again, and we wonder if The Style Council have popped their heads around the door for a quick meeting in the board room. It has a funky beat to it, and it is rarely we find Weller in optimistic form. This is a track that makes you look up to the sky hoping for a bit of sunshine (and wouldnt that be something for the weekend?) The electric guitar pulls out all the stops for the break giving it a true summer theme. A rolling track with lyrics full of the social subjects rumbling around in Wellers head as per usual. A pleasant track to listen to and probably the most jolly out of the lot. What strikes us so far is the neat balance between themes of songs on this album. Moods are lifted and lowered gently without the need to not bother going to work in the morning because the world is coming to an end. Weller goes easy on us in this album. With every track, we are led gently by the hand and guided with ease into the mood of the track rather than trust into a situation than leaves us feeling embarrassed for the musicians playing with him.
Has My Fire Really Gone Out? It may sound like the punch line to a rather good joke, or even a sentence to test the quickest witted on Whos Line Is It Anyway..? Yet, this tracks humour stops bluntly right there at the title. This harmonica-ized track takes us back to the days of Dylan gigs where he actually did turn up. Weller devotes himself to the folksy and funky themes, and I wonder if perhaps he has struggled within himself to keep up with the changing world of the music industry. After the hype of The Jam and the other band that people dont like to admit they rather liked, these were certainly hard acts to follow and I feel that in this track he is trying to hard. Even Oasis wouldnt dare to come up with such an ecliptic fusion of noise as Weller forces his musicians to do at the end of this track. The noise of what was once a fairly decent tune becomes a wail of nothing at all melodic towards the end. The heart beat thundering into our ears at the every ending is perhaps a strange concept and we wonder if it was really necessary.
Country, as one suspects, is gentle, after the weirdness of the enraging previous track. Weller has calmed down, had a black coffee, collected his thought s and gone back to work on the album in hand. Reminding me very much of Bowies Ziggy days and a touch of Cosmic Dancer, by the late and exceptionally great Marc Bolan (still cant get my head around his sons name .Rolan Bolan ) These string/ synthesiser elements always give a track heart and soul. They breathe life into a record and force the very blandest of guitar tracks into a swirling dream of emotions. A shimmering cymbal effect circles each verse and gives it a polished feel. An exceptional track.
Again, we find ourselves listening to a short piece of Instrumental stuff. This time we hear something that would be better off at home on a Farm track. A fully based track, it uses synth noise and very little else. No tune here or anywhere around it. Space like and atmospheric to a point. It finishes, break over, put end of sandwich down, time to pick up guitar and start again..
5th Season is a another organ filled track with a hint of James Brown and blues around it. A touch of harmonica reminds us of a freight train running through the night. The organ is played with scaling extent, that it becomes a foot tapping delight. Forceful and fearless, a track that incorporates a good piano base, and just for a minute, we wonder if Rick Wakeman has been asked to sit in for this one. The organ spins notes out at us, (take a dive and swim to daddy), this track rocks and rolls. Persevering in this mood, we hear some of those old trumpets flowing though where they shouldnt. A track to be truly listened to for his array of sounds and textures. A rustle of maracas and tambourines collects this track and throws it into the bracket of a jolly good listen.
The Weaver, was another release from this album, again, failing to reach anything higher than number 18, it was produced as an EP, still not making any further impact, especially when the idea of value for money is thrown into purchasing an EP. Quieter, somehow, this track perhaps would have been an idea as the B side for the previous track. What has surprised me about this album is that it isnt as depressing as I thought it would be. I would not go as far as to say I am now shaking off my Style Council pastels and heading over to the free spirited, long haired Weller we know today, but I can be converted if only for the complete running time of this album. Heavy on the tambourines and thrashing of a tonne of cymbals, this track seems to loose itself in its music. Weller was once someone to listen to and be interested by with his words like Billy Bragg. Now what we hear is Weller the musicians rather than Weller, the angry, outspoken young man of yesteryear.
Oopse, must be time for a cocktail fill up, get those big Afros away from me, those flares are flapping out the flame from my tea light and I only came in for a small fries and a banana milkshake tutt.
Foot Of The Mountain., opens and we feel that Dylan presence return. A solo guitar and one man vocal theme, we think of Wonder wall. A piece of soul defying angst, sitting cross legged on the floor and wearing sandals. We may feel the need to pass on this one unless this unaccompanied style is your bag. We forgive Weller as he know him to want to say some much.
Shadow Of The Sun, is still in enhanced thought provoking mood. I now get the feeling that Elton John has made his way into the building for some recording fix. A strong piano based track captures all the instruments that Weller has crammed into every other track on the album so far. The ending loops around and around a cymbal and a organ straining as if wanting to use the bathroom. We wonder when it will end, so that we, can also use the bathroom without feeling that we may miss out on some enraging clashed cymbals towards the end. No, what we get, or at least, what well miss on the way to the toilet is that strangled eclectic guitar off on a noise pursuit again.
'Holy Man' is here once again as a reprise. Put your hand together for one more time. The trumpets are more prominent as in echoes of the Style Council days. We even get to hear a taste of flute which, if I can remember, tended to show up occasionally on Council tracks. Not really noted for anything, as it is only a reprise. It is brief, but as far as the other instrumental coffee breaks go, this one is fairly listenable.
Moon On Your Pyjamas, takes on child like theme, and if I ever get another sleepless night with my five year old, then I shall reach for the CD player and put this one. A lullaby feel, but not quite the Beautiful South, thankfully. It drifts and will lull the angriest baby to blissful sleep. Sway your head gently to this piece, as it will sooth away the worries of the day. Kick off your shoes and relax, Paul Weller is here and with this track, he will be your guide to a peaceful soul. Now we are certainly bordering dangerously on ultra lounge shoo those waiters away! you got the moon on your pyjamas and the stars in your eyes its Weller in sweeter than sweet mode, and we wonder why It doesnt fit into the rest of the album, but we dont mind..
Hung Up, and perhaps a very fitting ending to an album. With a winding up the show feel, it is head strong and defiant and will give you the aim to live for another day. So lift you head to the sky and embrace that George Harrison Krishna guitar and dust off the Kaftans. It is not unlike any other track on the album, so there is not surprising moments of eye openers here, just a plodding track of Wellerisms and all that we know to be Paul Weller.
We have come through to the other side. So did Paul Weller. He managed to survive the circles of existence that have been the different faces of himself throughout the years. Changing his mood again at the turn of this century, he has given us more recently, Stanley Road,(1995) which was, again, a different slant on the fundamental roots of his career.
The Changing Man will probably never cease to amaze us. Turning a new corner every so often, he will continue to excite new generations and produce sentimental pieces to please the old. An album, in my book, that yes, I didnt think I was going to like, but after witnessing the spirits of The Jam and The Style Council, it would appear that this chameleonic artist will turn to gold anything that he touches..
Steve White - drums
Marco Nelson - bass guitar
Yolanda Charles - vocals and guitars
Paul Weller - keyboards.
Produced and arranged by Brendan Lynch.
All songs written by Paul Weller
On Island Records 1993
Bought HMV, ten pounds, 2000
A warm, raw, uplifting but endlessly self sestioning record, Weller's second solo album was inspired by R&B, British mod psychedelia and the folk music of Tim Hardin and Nick Drake as Britains formerly Most Vehement Man faced up to an uncertain future. Polydor had dropped him at the end of the '80s, his '91 comeback had only been a modest success, and he was already 35 by the time of Wild Wood's release. Following The Jam's newspapery bluster and The Style Council's slick magazine self consciousness, this is the sound of an artist finding a more emotional voice, unburdened by the responsibility of ever again saying something 'important' about Britain. With this album, Weller has left behind the eighties and the shite that were The Jam and The Style Council and has started to write classics. The title track is one of my favourite songs of the 90s adn was universally liked by everyone. This album is a must have for all fans of Weller, and is a fantastic introduction to his music if you want to give it a try. The only moan about this problem is that at times it makes you want to top yourself, it's so depressing. BUY THIS NOW FOOL!
Many feel this is paul Weller's best album,although there are some songs on the album that can quite rightly be said to be some of his greatest.There are some songs that don't really deserve to be on the album. The title track,a very nice acoustic track,that reminds me of a Small Faces song,is widely thought of as Weller's best. And then there is sunflower with it's repeating riff's is quite infectious.The other song that stands out is Hung up,which i feel is without doubt his greatest song. The rest of the album is not bad but it's not great,although peoples opinions of this album are different. This could have been Paul Wellers best album but perhaps he was saving the best for "stanley Road". If you decide to buy this album, then i would advise you to get it from a second hand shop at nice tidy sum of £4.00 otherwise you'd feel like you'd spent around £10-12 pounds on a broken amplifier.Spend you're money on either Stanley Road, Heliocentric or his greatest hit's album which includes the songs from this album that i've mentioned.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)
3 Wild Wood
4 Instrumental One (Part 1)
5 All The Pictures On The Wall
6 Has My Fire Really Gone Out?
8 Instrumental Two
9 5th Season
10 The Weaver
11 Instrumental One (Part 2)
12 Foot Of The Mountain
13 Shadow Of The Sun
14 Holy Man
15 Moon On Your Pyjamas
16 Hung Up
17 Wild Wood
18 Magic Bus
19 Ends Of The Earth
20 This Is No Time
21 Another New Day
22 The Loved
Disc #2 Tracklisting
3 All The Pictures On The Wall
5 5th Season
6 The Weaver
7 Shadow Of The Sun
8 Moon On Your Pyjamas
9 Ends Of The Earth
10 Love Of The Loved
11 Price To Pay
13 I'm Only Dreaming
15 Oh Happy Day
17 Wild Wood
18 Weaver Of Dreams
19 Foot Of The Mountain
20 Hung Up
21 Black Sheep Boy