Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Funk Meets the Modfather -- Album Review: Paul Weller - Sonik Kicks

Album Review

Paul Weller
Sonik Kicks

Paul Weller belongs in the same sentence as Joe Strummer, David Byrne, Tom Petty and Sting, so I am putting him there.

Like the rest, Weller was the chief singer and songwriter for a seminal band that released several superlative albums within the years 1976-1983. Unlike the rest, his band--The Jam--is not in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and I don't recall ever seeing them on a list of nominees for consideration.

That's a gripe for another day, but if you are a fan of The Clash, Talking Heads, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and The Police and--like many Americans--unfamiliar with The Jam, I venture to suggest that they remain the best rock band you've never heard of.

According to The Jam's entry on AllMusic, in the U.K. the trio was the "most popular band" of their era--yes, even beyond The Clash and Police. AllMusic gives three of the Jam's six albums a full 5 stars and the composite ratings of all their studio albums compare strongly with the output of the aforementioned bands (only the Talking Heads' work from 1976-83 averages higher). You can find The Jam on Spotify, where the first album listed--Snap!, a 2-disc greatest hits set--is a fine place to begin an exploration.

But while I'm always happy to wax ecstatic about The Jam, the point of this post is not to extol the work Paul Weller did when he was in his late-teens and early '20s. As his new album, Sonik Kicks, once again attests quite convincingly, into his 50s "The Modfather" continues to produce excellent music.

I would even assert--supported by AllMusic's album ratings--that since 1990 and certainly 2000, Weller's recorded output has outshone his more U.S.-famous contemporaries' in both breadth and depth. (Sadly, Strummer died in 2002 after a couple decent albums with The Mescaleros; Petty continues his fine work with the Heartbreakers but their later albums have been spotty; Byrne has shown glimpses of solo brilliance, but sporadically; and while I can't deny Sting's genius with the Police, I haven't liked much of his solo work nor his persona. And I should mention somewhere that after disbanding the Jam in 1982, Weller was in the Style Council duo before eventually embarking on a solo career.)

Though I've rarely found Weller's solo material as instantly accessible nor quite as magnificent as that with The Jam--thus he fits into my Paul Principle suggesting that despite stellar solo work, he like Mssrs. McCartney, Simon and Westerberg was even better earlier with a group/duo--2010's Wake Up the Nation was one of my favorite albums of that year, 2005's As Is Now was among my favorites of the century's first decade and 2008's 22 Dreams and 2002's Illumination are also quite stellar.

Given the album's angularity due to Weller's incorporation of a variety of sonic textures, it's taken me about a dozen listens to really appreciate all that excels on Sonik Kicks, so I wouldn't expect the uninitiated to be wowed on a first listen. But from the techno-funk of set opener "Green" to the late-Jam punch of "The Attic" to the string section lushness of "By The Waters" to the handclaps and doo-wop harmonies of "That Dangerous Age" to the "Sun King"/"Because"-like dirge of "Paper Chase," there is a whole lot here to explore, admire and warm up to rather robustly.

Sonik Kicks probably won't stand as Paul Weller's crowning achievement, nor my favorite album of 2012. But it does serve as ample proof that the Modfather continues to make excellent music without wasting much time looking back to his glorious past nor across the pond to glory that has eluded him in America. For the few here who may care--Weller remains an icon in England, where the new album hit #1--and the legions of music lovers who should, Sonik Kicks is worthy of exploration that reveals a entirely enjoyable jam.

Here's a clip of Paul Weller performing "The Attic":

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