An uneven but fascinating glimpse into his studio experiments...

Paul Weller has spent the past decade or so side-stepping expectations and quietly releasing some of the most creative work of his career. For all the Modfather jibs online, since the creative reset that accompanied 2008’s ’22 Dreams’, he’s staunched refused to look back, resulting in such curios as the gorgeous folk-infused song cycle ‘True Meanings’ or a 2020 blast of analogue electronic wonk-pop on cult label Ghost Box.  

Ostensibly the follow up to last year’s number one album ‘On Sunset’, ‘Fat Pop (Volume 1)’ was constructed during lockdown. In lieu of touring, Paul Weller simply locked himself away in the studio, using that pent up energy to create new music. Unlike the thematic shifts that have contoured his recent work, there’s no real over-arching structure here – he skips from idea to idea, giving the set more the feel of a range of sonic experiments, rather than a finessed album.

Pleasingly, the record opens with perhaps its most unexpected moment. A slice of off kilter disco-infused songwriting, ‘Cosmic Tinges’ retains the electronics that dappled last year’s ‘On Sunset’ while steering them in a fresh direction. That’s not to say that ‘Fat Pops (Volume 1)’ departs from the familiar – the work of New Orleans great Aaron Neville haunts ‘Testify’ while the title track has a definite Curtis Mayfield feel to it.

Indeed, ‘Fat Pops (Volume 1)’ is often at its best when Paul Weller returns to those funk and soul roots. As pleasing as the faint reggae influences on ‘The Pleasure’ are, you’re left yearning to hear the songwriter cut loose. ‘Moving Canvas’ may dip into JJ Cale style blues rock, but it’s the Kinks chords on ‘Cobweb Connections’ which linger in the memory.

‘In Better Time’ offers a pensive, forceful vocal, while closer ‘Still Glides The Stream’ is an ambitious undertaking, fusing a lyric about the passing of time and the pleasures of the everyday with sloping, Lennon-esque piano chords and a truly divine arrangement that contains shades of Robert Kirby’s work with Nick Drake.

A record every bit as contradictory as its maker, ‘Fat Pop (Volume 1)’ foregoes the unity that Weller can often impact on his work for a more stream-of-consciousness approach. Laying ideas down on tape and moving immediately forwards, it’s an uneven buy oddly gripping experience. A kind of blue eyed soul take on the Basement Tapes, ‘Fat Pop (Volume 1)’ stands as further testimony to Paul Weller’s disregard for the expectations laid upon him.

7/10

Words: Robin Murray

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