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Paul Weller hopes for new audience with solo effort

Paul Weller
Paul Weller.
Go! Discs America.

By Paula Cuccurullo

Way back in everyone's favorite decade, the Seventies, something interesting happened on the British music scene. One pub band made up of three teenagers wore sharp black suits, carried vintage guitars, and played angry songs about what it was like to be young in London at that time. They were lumped together with the bands of the Punk movement but were actually more devoted to the Mod ideals of the Who and the Small Faces. By the time of their breakup, the Jam had become the most popular band in Britain (spawning a New Mod movement), and their singer/guitarist/songwriter, Paul Weller, had been proclaimed the spokesman for his generation.

But Weller had wanted to move on to a different sound, and thus made the daring move to break up the Jam at the height of their popularity to form his new band, the Style Council, with keyboardist Mick Talbot in 1983. This gave him the opportunity to experiment more with the American and Northern (UK) soul sound he favored for his own listening pleasure. The Council stayed together for over seven years, almost as long as the Jam; in the UK, they were never as popular as Weller's first band, but they were beloved by fans of jazz, funk, and pop, alike.

The only thing Weller's two bands seemed to have in common was their inability to make a lasting impression on the music scene in the United States, which is a shame considering the heights of popularity they reached in his own country, the rest of Europe, and particularly Japan. It seemed as if the rest of the world found something important that most of this country didn't. But some hope remains, because almost two decades after he first played in a pub outside of London, Paul Weller has a new album and a tour poised to win this country over to his side.

This time, he is on his own. His band does include a number of former Style Council musicians, however, including longtime collaborator Steve White, the talented drummer of acid jazz group the Jazz Renegades. Together they have put together a sound which marks a turn towards the guitar rock/pop of the Jam but with the jazz/funk sensibilities of the Council intact.

In concert on July 25 in New York City, the band was focused and having an excellent time. They played songs from all three periods of Weller's career, performing most of the new songs for the first time ever in America. The songs are less jazzy than those of the Style Council and take more of an influence from rock bands of 1960s Britain (Blind Faith, the Beatles), but are far from being strictly mod like early Jam work. The live versions were not as polished as those on the album but benefited from that roughness and the good humor of the musicians. Weller himself was in rare form, thrashing about with his guitar and enjoying audience singalongs; he seemed surprised at how much of the audience knew the words to the older songs!

The self-titled album consists of twelve songs recorded during and since the breakup of the Style Council; one, "Round and Round," was first heard in a much different version on the UK House album Free Your Feelings by Slam/Slam (fronted by Weller's wife Dee C. Lee). The lyrics are more introspective than on much of Weller's previous work, dealing with his past, his present, and his fears and hopes for the future. Listeners familiar with his previous work will be surprised at the complete absence of overt political statements on the album. Instead he has taken a more personal approach to putting forth his philosophy of life, and it works. Hopefully it will appeal to both sets of his fans and new converts as well.

Look for the release of the album on Go! Discs America/Polygram on October 6, after the release of the first single in late September. Weller and his band will be playing in America after an extensive tour of Britain, hoping to appear in the Greater Boston area sometime in November or December.