Paul Weller: From Modfather to moderniser
This article is from 2008.
With 21 albums behind him, Paul Weller would be forgiven for falling back on the tried-and-tested sound of tracks like 'Wild Wood' 'Going Underground' and 'Eton Rifles' that earned him his 'Modfather' nickname.
Instead, as he reaches his half century, with '22 Dreams' the former Style Council rocker has produced his most adventurous and experimental work to date.
Paul claims the change in direction was a deliberate move, saying: "Right from the start I was aware that I didn't want to make 'As Is Now' [his album from 2005] Part 2.
"The tracks you might not like now, you'll maybe love in six months. That's the sign of a great record. I think the older you get there's a certain amount of freedom because it's like, 'F*** it, I'm going to do whatever I feel like.
"You have to keep challenging yourself. I've always tried to do that, but I've always been successful. You can't stick in your little comfort zone. Which is something that I have been accused of in the past, and is something I disagree with."
Paul could indeed have stayed in his comfort zone and made a living from trading on his impressive back catalogue - he was offered the chance to reform The Jam, but declined, believing it cheapened the ethos of the band.
He said "For me it dulls the legacy. I don't understand it; it's not what we were about, I didn't think."
Former bandmates Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler did take up the offer and are currently touring as The Jam - a move which Paul has been critical of, saying: "I can't say I'm happy about it but I have to let them get on with it.
"At the end of the day, whether people like it or not, they're my f***ing songs. There was three people in that band and everyone made a contribution and that's fair enough, but they're still my f***ing tunes. I saw Bruce Foxton recently. It was fine, no animosity. I've certainly no bad blood because life's too short for that."
While Bruce and Rick play to the nostalgia crowd, their old frontman is busy collaborating with more contemporary stars - including former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon and Oasis rocker, and close friend Noel Gallagher - and winning over a new legion of fans.
While Oasis will happily admit they have been heavily influenced by Weller's legacy, the musician can now return the complement - having teamed up with Noel for his forthcoming single, the dark and psychedelic 'Echoes Round The Sun', Paul revealed that it was originally a track intended for the Manchester rockers.
He said: "I called Noel up and asked him if he had any ideas for some tunes and if he fancied coming down to the studio. He had the backing track for 'Echoes' for a while and he couldn't finish it. It wasn't working with Oasis and I can't imagine them doing it in an obvious way really.
"I jammed a melody on the top and from there you have the perfect marriage for a song; the two ideas came together. Gem Archer (Oasis guitarist) came down and played guitar and melotron and Noel played bass and keyboards."
Weller's willingness to take on contemporary influences has helped with his continued success and relevance. From the Acid-house influenced work with the Style Council, to the mood-capturing Britpop classic 'Stanley Road', there are few genres the singer hasn't dabbled in - and '22 Dreams' covers most of them.
He said: "I started it last spring and it follows the passing of one year into the next, going through the seasons. It takes in soul, rock'n'roll, there are some folky moments, some psych bits, a classical piece, some avant free form. There's a tribute to Alice Coltrane and a spoken-word piece called God - about spirituality, not institutionalised religion. It's been liberating and a lot of fun."
The two-disc concept album seems to have relaxed and rejuvenated the 50-year-old rocker - and even mellowed his notoriously fiery nature, having decided to please himself, rather than the fans and critics with the music.
He said: "'I suppose I thought, I'm this far along in life, I'll make something totally indulgent, to please myself and the way music is at the moment, the lack of record sales, the whole downloading thing, you don't know what's going to happen to your record."
Despite opting to please himself with the record, '22 Dreams' has had the best critical response of any of his releases in recent years. The songs have received an impressive response at Weller's recent concerts and the album looks certain to debut in the UK top ten next week.
Admitting himself that he "didn't expect to be making music after the age of 25, then 35", Weller is showing no signs of resting on his laurels and taking it easy now he's turned 50. Instead, he believes reaching the landmark age has increased his drive for success - and wants to fly the flag for other aging rockers.
He said: "I'm sure there's a subconscious 'go for it' thing with turning 50. You want to do as much as possible and there are thoughts of how little time we have on the planet. For a lot of musicians in their 50s, the best days are behind them. I'd like to try and show that there is a future."
If '22 Dreams' is anything to go by, Paul will still be producing chart-topping records when he's drawing his pension and showing the younger stars how it's done.
© BANG Media International