Paul Weller, ‘Sonik Kicks’ — Album Review
This is the modern world! Some artists travel the same road day in, day out, while others prefer to throw a fork in that road and change things up. Neil Young, David Bowie and of course, the Beatles, all come to mind. So does Mr. Paul Weller.
Since first appearing on the music scene in 1977 with The Jam, Weller has been one of the most prolific and consistent artists around. The Jam went through a variety of styles, all centered around Weller's slashing Rickenbacker guitar and a deep love for all things mid-1960's rock, roll and soul.
After a very successful run (they were so much bigger in the homeland than they were here in the US) he sank his own ship and broke up the band in 1982, fearing it, and he, would become a cliche. His next move, The Style Council, was a more soul-based combo, even wandering into house music territory by the very end.
In 1992 Weller launched his solo career and each album has had it's own distinct vibe. From the acoustic-based 'Wildwood' to the dynamic rock and roll of 'Stanley Road' through the heavy soul-tinged rock of, well, 'Heavy Soul' and beyond. The constants have been great songwriting, soulful vocals, ace playing and a sense of style that's second-to-none.
With his last couple of albums, 2008's '22 Dreams' and 2010's 'Wake Up The Nation,' Paul seemed re-energized, and the albums stand among his best. So after 35-plus years making music, where was he to go? With his new album, the aptly titled 'Sonik Kicks,' Weller takes a sharp turn but makes sure we're still along for the ride.
Things kick in from the first notes of 'Green,' with an electronic pulse that pushes the song along its psychedelic-tinged way. 'That Dangerous Age' is a 21st century soul raver built around a Kinks-like guitar riff that straddles the line between retro and contemporary in the best possible way. With 'Kling I Klang' Weller delivers a chaotic punk rooted stomp overtaken by a new shiny coat of paint, while 'By The Waters' is a beautiful acoustic ballad.
Paul's trademark guitar and ever-present Mod/soul influences are still firmly intact, but channeled through a sort of retro-future kaleidoscope of sound. In the past, influences such as Beatles, Small Faces, Marvin Gaye and Traffic all took center stage, this time around we get the idea Paul's jukebox was also loaded with 'Low'-era Bowie, Augustus Pablo, Neu! and maybe even a little Bill Nelson, as well as more current acts like MGMT.
'Sonik Kicks' has a sort of vision of the future through the eye of the past thing going on, and somehow never falls into a cliche retro trip. 'Study In Blue' is a brilliant mix of dub and soul, while 'Around The Lake' pulses along in pure motorik bliss, driving head on into Now! Britpop champs Graham Coxon (Blur) and Noel Gallagher (Oasis), who both owe a grand debt to Weller musically, are on board to lend a hand as well.
From start to finish, 'Sonik Kicks' is a winner and ranks as one of his best all around albums. His Mod heart is still beating, but it's covered by this other badge he's not worn before, and it suits him just fine. All hail the Modfather!