Paul Weller Saturns Pattern on 180g LP + Download
There are, let’s be honest, a few great English artists who enhance their living legend status by not actually doing very much. They deposited their great work in the memory bank decades ago and now simply reap the accumulated interest from the old faithful each passing year. Good for them. But Paul Weller’s not like that. He never stops dropping landmark recordings, nor striking out for new turf. “What would I do if I stopped?” he asks. “And why would I stop if making music is what I always wanted to do?”
No, Paul Weller does not rest on his enormous laurels. He’s not content just to soak up plaudits for the influence he continues to assert after four decades of constant, questing musical endeavour. His life’s mission to keep producing new music is never obscured by the mountainous critical accolades he’s racked up after six era-defining albums with The Jam during that golden era for British music just after punk until they split in 1982 (thus ending the golden era).
Nor does he rack up on the mantelpiece the critical acclaim he still receives for the five albums he made subsequently with the diametrically opposed (but still undeniably Weller-like) soul-jazz-funk-anything-but-rock Style Council, and eleven albums as a multi-award-winning solo artist since 1990. Weller could score a different open-goal on the nostalgia circuit every year for the next two decades by playing a different one of his classic albums again. Think how much his huge public - one of music’s most partisan and loyal - would love him to now tour The Jam’s Sound Affects, or The Style Council’s Our Favourite Shop, or his landmark album from the 90s Britpop era, Stanley Road? He could write his own fee.
But for Paul Weller, it would be like writing a retirement plan and that’s the very worst thing he can think of. Instead he furthers his reputation as one of Britain’s very greatest living musicians by doing what he’s always done: heading back into the studio and making a new album. It’s always something that surprises sonically, that takes a fork in the road from his last work, but it’s also something that always, has the tunes to make the journey you’re taking with him worth it. Nobody writes songs as reliably and regularly brilliant as Paul Weller. Nobody. That’s a fact and has been since 1976.
Last year, 2014, he headed back into his regular recording haunt, Black Barn Studio in the Surrey countryside, to work on Saturns Pattern, his follow-up to 2012’s tour-de-force of cut-up pop-punk-kraut and abstract escapades Sonik Kicks. Working alongside his regular sound-desk collaborator Jan “Stan” Kybert (Oasis, Bjork, Massive Attack) in the producer’s chair for the first time, and with trusty engineer Charles Rees close at hand, he had a very different album in mind. He wanted something with a bit of swing and space in it. And so work on Saturns Pattern began.
“It’s not necessarily a dance album, but I wanted something with rhythmic drive. The soul side was a conscious decision. It has a lot of movement in the record, there’s something physical,” he says. “But it has the tunes to match. Not that I ever plan it but I always react a bit to what I’ve done last. I don’t want to repeat myself. It’s pointless.”
Working alongside Weller and Kybert was Weller’s touring drummer Ben Gordelier - of The Moons - who played on just about all the songs. Weller handled a lot of the other instruments himself, but welcomed in guests for stints adding shade and colour to his picture throughout, including touring band member Andy Crofts (also of The Moons) who pops up all over the place, old guitar foil Steve Cradock, as well as even older guitar foil Steve Brookes with whom Weller went to school and who first started The Jam with him. Other guests included guitarist Josh McClorey from Irish R&B scamps, The Strypes.
What they created was an album that will make the summer days seem even longer, but will also heat up the coldest winter’s night. It’s an album aglow with warmth and passion. It’s an album of deep English soul and heart, one that makes you want to fling open the doors and commune with your fellow man and neighbour. It’ll make you feel like dancing when you’re lying down and make you ponder deeply even when you’re grooving to it, lost in melody and rhythm. It’s deep. It’s heavy. It’s soulful. It’s got some very catchy tunes.
As is typical with a Paul Weller album, you’d struggle to define it stylistically. There a soulful feel that encompasses it all, especially on songs like the bustling, piano-fed “Going My Way,” or the wonderful Southern-fried organ precision of “Pick It Up.” But no soul album could contain the skyscraping blues explosion of “White Sky” or the slide-guitar frenzy of “In The Car…,” which Weller describes as his “M25 Blues.” There’s a psychedelic, jazzy, Age Of Aquarius feel to songs like “Phoenix,” too, as well as the magnificently expansive summer breeze that is the closing “These City Streets.” It’s a soulful kaleidoscope of an album that feels both out-of-step and ahead of its time.
Paul Weller is not one of life’s natural navel-gazers. But even he, in a quiet moment, might reflect that a sonic chapter was opened with 2008’s eclectic double album 22 Dreams and it forged a narrative musical arc that continued through 2010’s Wake Up The Nation and 2012’s Sonik Kicks. Saturns Pattern released on Paul's new labels; Parlophone in the U.K., and Warner Bros. Records in U.S., feels carved from a different mold and travels to fresh locations. It sounds suspiciously like a brand new chapter. Paul Weller, 56, has pulled the rug out from us all once again.
Saturns Pattern – Track By Track:
• And he shall strike down with a terrible vengeance: A blues explosion the like of which we’ve seldom heard from Paul Weller. As heavy as he gets.
“It’s a track I started a couple of years ago with The Amorphous Androgynous. We did about eight or nine tracks together and “White Sky” was one of them. I forgot about it totally and then Stan rejigged it, rearranged it and it sounded great. I thought, yeah. Have that! I play guitar but some of it is from the Amorphous band as well. I was thinking about Robert Johnson when I wrote the lyrics. I have no idea why.”
• Bright and breezy mod-sermon that slips off into a mighty reprise
“I was surprised to find out there was a website called Saturns Pattern which I had no idea about. Apparently it's some kind of wind on the north side of Saturn which created a hexagonal shape, hence the sleeve. I was thinking more of T Rex with the title. Sort of “Telegram Sam”. It has a lovely reprise? Thanks. Goes into some heavy funk.”
Going My Way:
• Two sides to the same coin: a tender piano ballad that slips into and out of a swinging Northern Soul stomper
“A love song to my lovely wife. With the music I was thinking about those Pet Sounds bootlegs where they'd splice melodies together and somehow they’d sit together.”
• “For such a long time, I couldn’t get no peace.” Two chords, the truth.
“It's got a nod to The Velvets and The Stooges. That New York punk thing. I think I wrote it in America, actually. It's really raw. What you hear on the record is the first time we played it and the only time we played it, too, I think. It was just an off the cuff idea, a two-chord thing. Bosh and it’s done. Charles (Rees) our engineer played bass on it. Tom Van Heel, a local musician played drums on it. And Bill Wheeler, Kenny's son, our tour manger, played on it. It had the right feel. Tight but loose.”
Pick It Up:
• Precision-tooled Memphis-style soul-funk
“I was trying to get a Meters vibe to it. Stan had a drum loop and I put a funky guitar on it and that was all we had for a while. Eventually we pieced it all together. "Whatever shatters pick it up": pretty straight-forward message.”
I’m Where I Should Be:
• The sound of one man's contentment with his lot
“It's probably just me saying I'm happy with my place in the world. I don't really crave much more. It's only taken me 55 years to get there. Even in a much bigger way, my place in the universe. It's mainly me playing on it. Stan played some keyboards.”
• Somewhere over the rainbow, between The Style Council and Frankie Knuckles
“Yeah, makes me think of Frankie Knuckles, that deep house feel. I don't know if it sounds like that but it definitely makes me think of that. It's got a bit of that and a bit of jazz funk, in the nicest way possible. Little bit of disco. Steve Cradock plays a bit of guitar, Ben (Gordelier) and Andy (Crofts) are on it. I think I played the rest of it. There's also bits that I've played elsewhere that Stan drops in and that offers different harmonic, melodic possibilities. Protools is amazing. Takes a few moments to do what would’ve taken weeks with tape.”
In The Car...:
• Paul Weller’s psychedelic M25 blues
“Not based on experience at all. I was trying to write a Surrey Blues. The title's from a Lichtenstein painting, which hasn't got any bearing on it really. There's also a little bit of that Tom Hardy film Locke, which I loved. Loved that intensity. One man and his car. Again, it's in these sections which we did as edit pieces. My old mate Steve Brookes plays guitar on it. Me and him started The Jam when we were kids at school. He plays some wicked slide guitar on it. We've been back in touch for the last twenty years or so.”
These City Streets:
• Nearly nine of the most lovely minutes Paul Weller has committed to record. A great waft of smokey, jazzy, slightly melancholic psychedelia. Oh, these city streets…
“I wanted to have an indulgent moment on the album and it was the right moment for that. There's quite a few improvised passages. We cut it live and it was me, Steve Cradock and Steve Brookes on guitars, Ben on drums. We played for ten minutes or so and then just edited it down from that. Like a lot of these songs I was just writing right up to the last vocal take. We wanted to keep that loose live feel and tighten it up with edits. I love it. It's another love song, but I was definitely thinking about London when I was writing it. I still feel that it's the greatest city on earth. I was thinking of all the lovers that have stood on the same spot that you've stood on over the course of time. All this love must add up to something bigger.”
Paul Weller Saturns Pattern Track Listing:
1. White Sky
2. Saturn's Pattern
3. Going My Way
4. Long Time
5. Pick It Up
6. I’m Where I Should Be
8. In The Car...
9. These City Streets