Friday, October 7, 2011

WAKE UP THE NATION - Paul Weller (2010)

I wish I could like Paul Weller more than I do.


There's so much about his talent and his dedication to craft that I admire.

A golden-voiced lifer who's been at it for more than thirty years as both a solo artist and a key member of The Jam and The Style Council, he's a wonderful lyricist and a daring, restless musician possessed of remarkable stylistic range. 

Blue-eyed soul, Brit-pop, prog, Celtic folk, experimental rock, metal, jazz, punk, adult contemporary, psychedelic jams...the man can truly do it all, and has delivered impressive songs in just about every modern genre.  I haven't heard him take on electronica, dubstep or a Joanna Newsom cover yet, but I'm sure such efforts are just another release or two away.

But in the end, Weller's stylistic wanderlust, while often his greatest strength, can also be his greatest weakness.

He's the classic "jack of all trades, master of none," consistently generating solid material in an astonishing range of niches, but only occasionally producing genuinely memorable songs.  After thirty years and dozens of LPs, he's had enough at bats to make for a killer live set list, but on individual albums, the results are often mixed, and that is definitely the case here.

Following 2008's better 22 Dreams, an expansive, theme-based album designed to take maximal advantage of Weller's natural eclecticism, Wake Up The Nation finds Weller trying to prove he can still rock it as well as the kids.  It's not a straight foray into punk, but it is a much harder rocking and stripped down album than 22 Dreams, with many of it sixteen songs clocking in well under three minutes.  As a statement of elderly swagger, it's not quite as successful a 2010 outing as say Grinderman II or especially OFF!'s First Four Eps, but it's a game effort nonetheless.

And as implied above, a few of the songs are fantastic.

Opener Moonshine, the title track, and the five-part Trees are all lively, effective rockers.  No Tears To Cry is even better, a stirring take on late 60s, Vegas-y kitsch, and then there's Aim High, one of the very best songs of 2010, just a monstrous three-minute slab of classic Curtis Mayfieldish falsetto-driven soul.

The remaining eleven tracks deliver on a variety of traditional rock flavors, many with deft, imaginative touches, but few made much of an impression on me despite the consistently high energy level.

A handful of the experimental rockers (Fast Car / Slow Traffic, She Speaks and 7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name) are outright clunky, and because Weller can't resist the temptation to add orchestral touches to even the most streamlined of his rockers, the faint scent of adult-contemporary genericism permeates much of the affair.

So just a mild recommend from me, but in fairness to Mr. Weller, most reviews of this album have been far more positive, so if you have any interest at all in hearing Wake Up The Nation, please don't let me be the one to dissuade you.

Like I said, despite my personal misgivings, there's so much about Paul Weller to like and respect.

Status: Mild Recommend.

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: Moonshine, No Tears To Cry, Aim High, Trees.

Here's the official video for Aim High.

Component Breakdown:
1. Moonshine - 8
2. Wake Up The Nation - 8
3. No Tears To Cry - 9
4. Fast Car / Slow Traffic - 5
5. Andromeda - 6
6. In Amsterdam - 7
7. She Speaks - 5
8. Find The Torch / Burn The Plans - 7
9. Aim High - 10
10. Trees - 8
11. Grasp And Still Connect - 7
12. Whatever Next - 7
13. 7 & 3 Is The Striker's Name - 6
14. Up The Dosage - 6
15. Pieces Of A Dream - 6
16. Two Fat Ladies - 7
Intangibles - Average To Low

What are your thoughts on Paul Weller's Wake Up The Nation?  Let readers know.

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