For all Paul Weller’s brilliance, shaking things up can have mixed results. Weller slips deeper into an acoustic side on this latest album, and ends up losing a bit of his fun side in the process. Though there’s some truly beautiful moments on this record, Weller doesn’t push the limits enough to make a standout.
With shuffling beats behind him, Weller creates a smoky air on “The Soul Searchers” to craft something akin to a spy anthem. While most of his song floats on its simple groove, the mood Weller creates with it is mesmerizing. This isn’t quite the case on “Glide” which touches listeners with its serene beauty but rarely feels particularly new in any way. Though it’s easy to feel similarly about the blues of “Mayfly” there’s something to the beats and frantic guitar mixing that opens it up more than you’d expect.
In its simple tumbling hooks, “Gravity” has this vintage romanticism to its writing that mixes in elegant arrangements with a kind of magic that only crooners like Peter Sarstedt managed to do without cheese. Weller gets a bit of this feeling on “Old Castles” while a good chunk of the song just tends to feel like its emulating this feeling rather than creating it genuinely. It’s really the strings and additional subtle vocals that bring this out of the recording. Similarly, “What Would We Say?” really starts to set itself apart in its trumpet breaks, while many of its verses bring emotion but little to make it intriguing.
As this fault of the traditional roots of Weller’s writing really becomes noticeable, a song like “Aspects” is a much more tiring of a listen. Though its strings create a deeper mood within the piece, they’re are noticeably reminiscent of similar string arrangements across music. Weller reflects on the disparity between celebrity and death on “Bowie” as he laments the loss of a friend and how it affects him. With a much tighter focus around the lyrics, the track shines in its smaller details. “Wishing Well” sits strangely, as it feels like it could easily whisk listeners away while it feels pulled from a very particular folk styling.
Throughout the rest of the album there are powerful moments to pick from like the spritely bounce of “Come Along” or the Sitar-like shimmers of “Books.” Ultimately, many of these moments feel disjointed as a whole piece and the album lacks a certain voice to make it distinct. Even the magical momentum behind “Movin On” lacks the proper weight to its mixing and arrangements to make a fiery moment across the piece.
Weller makes a shockingly score-like piece however on “May Love Travel With You” and leans into the cliché undertones for something a little more profound. This mixed with his broad but touching story are an inspiring switch of pace here. The ambient nature of “White Horses” and the snowballing that Weller plays with ultimate make the track feel like it has movement and purpose where other songs don’t.
Words by Owen Maxwell