At this point – after 40-plus years – I really should know better than to think Paul Weller couldn’t surprise me any further, because he’s just so damned good at doing so! And he’s managed to do it, yet again, with his latest effort (his 15th solo studio release), the uplifting On Sunset. This album sees him return to Polydor Records, his home from 1977 to 1990 (with both The Jam and The Style Council); although recorded at his home base, Black Barn Studios, in Surrey, England, it feels like an album that would have been done in Los Angeles – very sunny, warm and breezy. Fittingly, the promo trailer for the album shows Paul driving in L.A.! An album whose sentiments are welcome for these times.
“Mirror Ball” opens up the album – an elongated piece that opens with an emotional instrumental signature, which leads into a gentle and embracing vocal; lyrics of hope (as it were) – then giving way to soundscapes and effects (not dissimilar to some of what’s found on his In Another Room E.P. from last year – 4 instrumentals of “found” sounds) – but circling back to the body of the song. A very powerful and moving starting point. “Baptiste” is something of a throwback to his earlier Style Council sound; soulful and smooth – a deft groove and small wonder: Weller’s cohort in The Style Council, Mick Talbot, contributes his signature piano and organ sounds and it works just as well now as it did then. “Old Father Tyme” is straight up ’70’s soul-influenced and, as ever, Weller delivers without sounding derivative – love those synth notes that reminds me of The Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady?”; “Village” is another song of hope after watching the world turn for so many years: “…not a thing I’d change if I could/I’m happy here in my neighborhood…” – with a melody to match the song’s vibe.
“On Sunset”, with its sounds of the sea in the background and the acoustic guitar instantly makes this a perfect “summer song”; “Equinamity” has a neat cross/feel of McCartney/Leon Russell; “Earth Beat” is another Style Council-oriented piece, with some delicious synth touches; “Rocket” is one of Weller’s specialties – an acoustic-based ballad – heart-rending and spiritual and “Ploughman” is an upbeat, sprinting little rocker, loose and fun, with some very tasty riffing.
13 new songs to marvel over in a career that’s now been in full flight for 43 years. If I thought he was winding down when he released True Meanings in 2018, I was wrong – and I’m damned glad. Once again, Paul Weller defies all convention and expectations.
On Sunset is currently available.