Friday, 16 March 2012

REVIEW: Paul Weller - Sonik Kicks

You don't need me to tell you that Paul Weller is an absolute legend. After finding fame as a teenager with The Jam in the late 70s, the band split at the height of their success and Weller formed The Style Council in the 80s. The band divided opinions and after their split it seemed that Weller's best days were probably behind him. Then against all the odds he returned in the 90s as a rejuvenated solo artist and cemented his place in musical history. 

Now twenty years in to his solo career and Weller sounds more alive and hungry than most musicians half his age. The late 90s and 2000s saw him scoring hit albums despite the fact that critics dismissed them as boring and uninspired, but the release of 2008's '22 Dreams' and 2010's 'Wake Up The Nation' changed that, two albums that saw the Modfather trying out new things while still doing what he's always done best. 'Sonik Kicks' follows these and makes up the final part in this fantastic trilogy of albums that have seen this truly timeless artist in a rich vein of form. He explores endless possibilities, knowing that experiments conducted by the most instinctive of minds can create truly thrilling music. The musical landscape of 'Sonik Kicks' is hard to define, and therein lies part of its genius. Bold and well defined pop melodies are combined with brave experimental arrangements to produce an enjoyably kaleidoscopic musical vision. 

Not many 53 year olds are capable of beginning an album with something like the startling 'Green', sounding utterly insane with its squelching injections of guitar, motorik krautrock rhythms and random vocal bursts. For someone whose music is always likened to the mod bands of the 60s, the use of drum machines and electronic percussion on some of these tracks sounds perfectly natural as well as providing a refreshing new element to Weller's sound. For example 'The Attic' ticks along nicely with its picazzo strings and soaring melody, recalling a shiny tooled-up update of Weller's mid 90s output. The relentless urgency of 'Kling I Klang' is powered by a vaudeville rhythm and more than a hint of punk, while the lyrical imagery is trademark Weller at his most characteristically British. 

'Sleep Of The Serene' is a short almost ambient interlude which provides a much needed bit of calm before the pastoral acoustic classiness of 'By The Waters' emerges with a stunning string arrangement and a mysterious beauty recalling his early solo work. 'That Dangerous Age' is an addictive slice of warped doo wop with a slick Kinks melody, Who-esque backing vocals and occasional psychedelic flourishes all coming together brilliantly to conjure up a style-splicing cocktail of genius. 'Study In Blue' is one of the biggest surprises here: sure the moody soul of the vocal melody is something he's done a lot of in the past but to marry it with hypnotic dub reggae is something not a lot of people expected. As with most of Weller's trips down unfamiliar musical avenues, it proves that this man is capable of anything. 

Digitised synth drums pound beneath the dark psych-rock of 'Dragonfly', which comes with some stunning guitar sounds towards the end, while 'When Your Garden's Overgrown' is again classic Weller mod-pop with a 2012 sound, slow beats and a subtle electronic dressing powering a melody that could have been from any of Weller's solo albums. The driving rhythms, fierce guitars and Joy Division atmospherics of 'Around The Lake' provide another album highlight where such vitality is astounding coming from an artist in his 50s. 'Drifters' represents the record's deepest foray into the psychedelic, allying a disorientated vocal and loops of bizarre noise with ragged guitars and an odd fandango rhythm. The hazy vocal seems to float above the music rather than lock into it, and its a moment that's bound to divide opinions. 

Towards the end of the record we encounter the plodding 'Paperchase' which pales in comparison to the other songs here, and is certainly the least interesting of the collection. 'Sonik Kicks' ends on a soulful and sentimental note with the big piano ballad 'Be Happy Children', a song which doesn't follow the experimental path of most of this album, opting for the very familiar Weller solo sound of old. 

Overall 'Sonik Kicks' is more consistent than '22 Dreams' and more diverse than 'Wake Up The Nation', continuing another interesting and entertaining period in Weller's career. It's an adventurous and inventive collection of songs that show that after over 30 years in music, this iconic figure is showing no signs of giving up just yet. His search for new sounds is a quest which has resulted in a truly electrifying record, and not many artists his age are capable of sounding anywhere near this vibrant and imaginative. 8.5

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