Album of the Week 34-2012: Paul Weller – Stanley Road

Never having been a fan of The Jam, I never took the time to check out Paul Weller’s solo work. It wasn’t until I heard the simple, but effectively breathtaking ‘The Changingman’ on VH1 about a year and a half or so ago that I realized that “the Modfather” was a genius. I rushed out to my local record store to get the album the song opens – luckily it was on sale – and was enchanted by its music. This isn’t the Who-influenced Mod that made Paul Weller famous in the first place. Weller and his band mates are jamming here.

‘Stanley Road’, not unlike his self-titled debut and the wildly eclectic ‘Wild Wood’ before it and ‘Heavy Soul’ after it, injects a powerful shot of Bluesy Soul into Weller’s firm British roots. The result sounds somewhat like Traffic jamming with Curtis Mayfield, but even though this album features extensive jamming, Weller’s music is a more to the point than both of those artists would ever be. Though rocking, the sound is laidback, almost without exception and as a result, the album works best as the soundtrack to a late summer daydream.

Most remarkable about ‘Stanley Road’ is the flawless musicianship. Weller, lead guitarist Steve Cradock, drummer Steve White and bassists Dr. Robert, Mark Nelson and Yolanda Charles sound as if they’re so comfortable and familiar with each others playing, that the songs appear to have written themselves as they were recorded. Guest appearances by the likes of Noel Gallagher and the incomparable Steve Winwood are no different. Nothing sounds forced on this record and everything just fits.

But of course, all of the high-class musicianship would have been pointless, had Weller not written a handful of brilliant songs for the album. ‘The Changingman’ was my eye-opener for Weller’s music and it remains my favorite song of his to date, but there are many, many more songs to enoy here. The introspective ballad ‘You Do Something To Me’, for instance, or the stomping rhythms of the title track, the dynamic ‘Out Of The Sinking’ and the brooding masterpiece ‘Whirlpool’s End’. Yet in the end, it will always be one of those albums you listen to entirely instead of playing a few selected tracks. And it works; those 52 minutes fly by and you won’t even notice.

Okay, I was too quick to judge Weller based on his work with The Jam. I’m glad ‘The Changingman’ prove me wrong; Paul Weller’s discography holds several jewels of top-shelf British musical craftsmanship, with the man himself consistently refusing to stick to one style. That is something I consider admirable. And though all of Weller’s discography is worth hearing, ‘Stanley Road’ is to these ears his finest achievement yet. However, I do feel he has at least one more masterpiece up his sleeve…

Recommended tracks: ‘The Changingman’, ‘Whirlpool’s End’, ‘Stanley Road’, ‘Out Of The Sinking’

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