There have only been a few fleeting moments of doubt in the 32 years I’ve been a Paul Weller fan: His 1979 announcement that all members of The Jam were to vote Conservative; the band’s worrying funky disco departure ‘Precious’ appearing on a new-fangled 12” with ‘A Town Called Malice’; the sudden end of The Jam; The Style Council’s very patchy, never properly released garage/house album ‘Modernism: A New Decade’ and the ill-advised moustache of 1995.
Not bad going really when you think about it. And in the end those worries were all proved to be groundless. Weller wasn’t a Conservative; rather he dedicated a substantial chunk of his work and life to socialism, the Labour Party and Red Wedge. ‘Precious’ turned out to be quite good actually. Calling time on The Jam, while distressing at the time, cleared the way for another impressive body of work. The garage tunes, while sounding tinny and dated now, show a man nobly trying something new rather than resting on his laurels. And the ‘tache is but a distant, vaguely troubling memory.
Over the years most of us at the Roundhouse tonight have been through our own ups and downs with the sharp-suited man on stage. The middle-aged mods shouting for Jam songs. Portly, balding chaps crammed into Brutus Trimfit shirts waving their pints in the air. Couples who had ‘You Do Something to me’ played at their wedding reception holding hands. Young mods jerkily nodding their heads and chewing, their angular adrenalin-fuelled movements matching Weller’s own.
Tonight is part of a 5-night residency to showcase Weller’s 11th solo album ‘Sonik Kicks’. In a move aimed at shaming those bands that reform just to play their classic old albums, Weller’s plan is to run through the new ‘classic’ album in its entirety, before delving into his ample back catalogue.
So far so good then, bar niggling doubt number one. The photo on the programme shows Weller defiant in his double breasted whistle, two-tone brogues and immaculate barnet. But it’s the male model style pose – hands on hips, legs apart, far off gaze – which looks a little like a 53-year-old Derek Zoolander finally unleashing Magnum.
‘Sonik Kicks’ is one of Weller’s greatest most inventive albums in recent years and testament that his creative juices are still well and truly flowing. Likewise in a live setting his fire hasn’t gone out. There is a passion, a heart and soul to his playing, the sense that if you took it all away from him he wouldn’t know what to do with himself.
The relentless bass, angular Krautrock guitars and spoken vocal of ‘Green’ kick things off nicely, swiftly followed by the uptempo, bright and breezy pop of ‘The Attic’ and the frenetic polka of Kling I Klang.
Typically Weller hardly says a word throughout this no-nonsense set, letting the music speak for itself, bassist Andy Lewis and long-time cohort Steve Cradock
Swirling strings and acoustic guitar give a Nick Drake flavour to ‘By The Waters’, while the right old Blur type knees-up of ‘That Dangerous Age’ should have been a number one single.
‘Study in Blue’ a duet with Weller’s wife Hannah, harks back to the days of the Style Council (Hannah’s vocal complementing Paul’s in a similar way to former wife DC Lee’s) before changing into an extended melodica-fuelled dub workout. Sounds naff on paper but it’s incredible.
The driving atmospheric ‘Dragonfly’ follows, to these ears part Primal Scream, part Sixties spy flick soundtrack. But it’s the anthemic ‘When Your Garden’s Overgrown’ which steals the show tonight, a slice of perfect singalong pop tinged with bittersweet lyrics.
Apart from the Blur-like ‘Paperchase’ the album tails off a little after that. And with the dark psychedelia of ‘Around The Lake’ and the swirling sinister flamenco of ‘Drifters’ comes niggling doubt number two – doesn’t that sound a little bit like Siouxsie & The Banshees?
The doubts don’t last long. After the interval comes a rummage through Weller’s back catalogue. First an acoustic set with highlights ‘English Rose’ and ‘Out of the Sinking’ while the ensuing electric set includes ‘Eton Rifles’ and ‘From the Floorboards up’.
Which is where niggling doubt number three comes in. Because despite a huge array of songs to choose from Weller largely shies away from the crowd pleasers of The Jam and The Style Council, opting for lesser known tracks from recent albums like ’22 Dreams’ and ‘Wake Up The Nation’.
Yes Weller is all about looking forward, not stagnating and pushing himself to go further but surely after standing patiently listening to ‘Sonik Kicks’ most people hearing those songs for the first time, their devotion should have been rewarded?
Minor niggles then, serving only to prove that Weller is as human as the rest of us. Though not all mortals could pen music that is still as relevant and as exciting 35 years into their careers or play with the urgency and conviction of a teenager. Gawd bless im!