Paul Weller – 66

A brave work that pushes new ground...

Paul Weller is having the time of his life. Often (falsely) regarded as catering for blinkered middle aged fans with A Certain Type Of Haircut, his recent work displays a total disregard for audience expectation. Whether conjuring psychedelic folk hymnals or wonky electronica for Ghost Box, the songwriter is embracing his maverick streak, and clearly enjoying every minute.

New album ‘66’ appeared – on the surface, at least – to dial back into his core values. There’s the Peter Blake cover art, for instance – the pair last worked together for Paul Weller’s ‘Stanley Road’ LP. Lead single ‘Soul Wandering’ recalled Stax greats, with the horn section underpinning a biting vocal from the one-time Jam icon. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. ‘66’ is one of the most eclectic and confounding albums Paul Weller has ever completed, containing moments of inspired genius and head-scratching obscuration. 

Opening with a jaunty piece of acoustic guitar, ‘Ship Of Fools’ is worthy of Slim Chance, the post-Faces vehicle that saw prime Weller hero Ronnie Lane re-connect with the land. A meandering, cellular song structure lingers on his jazz impulses, matching vibes and flute for a palatial opener, more Parisian Left Bank in 1924 than Broken Britain in 2024. ‘Flying Fish’ is a determined voyage to the left-field – the chords are pure, un-adulterated ABBA worship, something that could well strike dischord with his new wave fanbase. Taken on its own merits, however, and it’s a thing of beauty, recasting Weller’s vocal in a totally new, deeply uplifting light.

‘Jumble Queen’ strikes back to his bedrock. A savage chord run – backed by pounding horns – is lit up by his pop instinct, sounding uncannily like Roy Wood’s myriad of early 70s hits. ‘Nothing’ is a soul ballad by way of a jazz-funk deep cut, the synths reminiscent of Kool & The Gang’s immortal dancer ‘Summer Madness’. It’s not all oblique reference points and nods to the past, however; a song cycle of introspection, the album contains more than a few revealing moments.

The gentle waltz ‘My Best Friends’ finds Weller ruminating on the past, and unfulfilled moments; for all its surging Hannah Peel aided orchestration, ‘I Woke Up’ presents a singer adrift from the world around him.

Brave to the point of being hard-headed, ‘66’ resists the temptations of re-claiming the past. Indeed, if there’s one reference point from Paul Weller’s catalogue on display here it’s the methodology – but not the sound – of the Style Council: soulful resistance of the ordinary, and an unwavering ability to block out expectation.

‘A Glimpse Of You’ is gorgeous, a moment of sheer audio adoration; ‘Sleepy Hollow’ in turn contains an almost lullaby-like sense of childish innocence. ‘In Full Flight’ is a psychedelic symphony, the layers of backward guitars interlocking with the digital pulse of the drum machine. Moving between past, present, and future, Paul Weller’s vocal attempts to find meaning in the totality, and comes tantalisingly close.

Ending with ‘Burn Out’, ‘66’ is one of the most profound adjuncts of Paul Weller’s solo career. Moving further than ever from the sound of those initial solo albums, he seems to constantly reach out to new definitions. It doesn’t always land, but it’s incredibly brave; it also needs more than a few listens to truly absorb, and accept – on first listen, this writer couldn’t understand it at all. A record of true passion, ‘66’ finds Paul Weller throwing caution to the wind once more.

7/10

Words: Robin Murray

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