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More Info:After an unparalleled career, characterized by constant musical experimentation, we should be used to Paul Weller's relentless desire to chop and change his sound. But after the triumphant, Brit Award-bagging success of 22 Dreams (his third solo number one in the UK), his new album Wake Up the Nation sees one of rock's most iconic songwriters expand and evolve once more. A departure stylistically from the more pastoral sounds of his last album, Wake Up is lean, mean and as uncompromisingly focused as its maker. It also brings Paul Weller full circle: twenty-eight years on from The Jam's split, two tracks feature the former bassist Bruce Foxton. The album also sees contributions from My Bloody Valentine guitar alchemist Kevin Shields, ELO's Bev Bevan and legendary session drummer Clem Cattini.
Paul Weller recently discussed how he wrote the songs for this crazy new album of his, saying, "After [2008's] 22 Dreams, I didn't have any songs to speak of apart from the odd title or couplet. So the whole process was really different. It was almost like starting from scratch." And it really shows. The majority of the 16 songs on Wake Up the Nation clock in at under three minutes, but make no mistake, Weller is not reverting back to the taut, masterful punk-pop anthems of the Jam (although the album does mark the occasion of reuniting with his Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton - the first time in nearly thirty years). On the contrary, Weller keeps looking forward, his head in the clouds while attempting to keep himself balanced down here on earth. For the most part, the songs on Wake Up are rooted in the past, but various sound collages in between the meat of the songs bring sometimes psychedelic, sometimes circus-like interludes to the proceedings. It is clear that many of these songs were fragments, albeit pretty strong ones, upon which Weller and company sprinkled these soundscapes perhaps in an effort to reach the three-minute mark. Once the goodies were added, the song was deemed long enough, and then on to the next adventure.
But the thing is, it works. It's Weller's most compelling and rocking record in a long time, and the ferocity of "Old Weller" barks quite often. While it is stylistically all over the map, the brevity of the songs keep Wake Up from appearing too self-indulgent. Foxton guests on - and totally owns, by the way - "Fast Car/Slow Traffic," an insistent, authoritative rave-up, which is close enough to the spirit of the Jam, I close my eyes and think of how cool a true reunion could be. "Find the Torch/Burn the Plans" has a similar urgency and features Weller's most confident singing on the album. But the similarities between any two songs pretty much end there. Opener "Moonshine" is raucous pub-rock while the gorgeous "No Tears to Cry" reminds of a lost Elvis Costello gem; "In Amsterdam" is a big-top instrumental piece straight out of a Fellini soundtrack while "Aim High" is slick retro cocktail funk (think Style Council) with falsetto vocals, Average White Band horns and swirling '70s cop show strings. And then there's "Trees," a five-part suite that clocks in just over four minutes, which veers from a barrelhouse Big Easy rag to a campy, theatrical Bowie-esque segment into a Stonesy swagger, to an fairly oppressive percussive jag then to a quiet piano/voice ending, ala Randy Newman. And again, it works. A couple of filler songs appear near the end, before Wake Up crashes to a close with the scrappy "2 Fat Ladies," which possesses a punky exuberance unmatched elsewhere on the album. Overall a very strong effort, which shows that life for Paul Weller may indeed begin at 50.