Friday, 24 May, 2024 in Culture, Live Reviews, Music

Into Music Album Review: Paul Weller 66

Album: ‘66’ by Paul Weller | 24 May 2024

On the 16th March 1984, I got up at a ludicrously early hour for a slovenly nineteen-year-old. It prompted raised eyebrows in my household because it was so far removed from my usual behaviour pattern back then. The reason for this normative departure? The release of Cafe Bleu, the first album from Paul Weller’s post-Jam musical collective, The Style Council.

Forty years later, that same obsessional desire to be amongst the first to hear Weller’s latest music still burns just as brightly. Although this time, thanks to a technology I increasingly feel on the periphery of, I didn’t need to leave my bed. Immediately after midnight, 66, Paul Weller’s new album, dropped into my phone. Accessing it requires far less personal commitment than walking miles to queue outside a local record shop for hours in rain that could strip a tattoo from exposed skin. And for that alone, I’m grateful.

The cat who got the cream.

In many other respects, the mid-eighties might’ve been a simpler time, but in this instance – and for these 59-year-old bones – there’s little simpler and more pleasing than putting tiny earphones in, pressing ‘play’, and embracing the Dolby Atmos sound quality in the darkness with no other distractions.

But recollections of Café Bleu, with its restless sound and stirrings of how I felt in hearing it for the first time aren’t mere coincidence. These two records share certain characteristics, not least in the willingness of Weller to collaborate with peers who interest and challenge him. This time, the musical collective includes Max Beesley, Josh McClorey, Richard Hawley, Brooklyn soul group Say She She, and Hannah Peel’s sublime orchestration. And their input creates a similar musical diversity to Café Bleu; an album that lost Weller a sizable following amongst those perplexed by his determination to break free of the increasingly limiting shackles of The Jam.

Weller’s openness to cede lyrical responsibilities to others is perhaps the most surprising development of this record. In recent years, Erland Cooper and Conor O’Brien of Villagers have contributed to Weller’s songs, but there’s a wider source of lyrical input for this record than any others outside of the originals selected to cover for Studio 150. I’ve written previously – and extensively – about the impact Weller’s lyrics have had on my writing. And I can’t deny it worried me slightly that the uniqueness of his perspective might be lessened.

‘Two lovers kissing amongst the scream of midnight,
Two lovers missing the tranquillity of solitude
Getting a cab and travelling on buses
Reading the graffiti about slashed-seat affairs.”

The timeless emotional resonance of such poetic lines … that pursuit of beauty and meaning in the ordinariness of working-class rubble. I’ve long accepted that I won’t ever come close to this. That realisation won’t stop me trying, of course, but I feared that this time Weller had perhaps run out of things to say. The words – surely the most personal and intimate part of a writer’s output – can’t simply be handed over to others if they are to hold the significance of meaning the singer attributes to them.

But I needn’t have worried. The meaning, hidden or otherwise, is always in the domain of the listener.

My relationship to the words is exactly the point. And Weller interprets lyrics by Suggs (‘Ship of Fools’), Noel Gallagher (‘Jumble Queen’) and Bobby Gillespie (‘Soul Wandering’) and others in ways that are entirely intertwined with the album’s underlying motif; time passing. In fact, it’s the latter of these songs that contains the album’s most memorable line: ‘And I want to believe in something greater than me.’ A consideration of age that I’d imagine regularly ruminates for people of my generation. Weller’s singing is magnificent throughout, and he’s on recent record highlighting a welcome freedom to concentrate on vocal interpretation as opposed to the constant pressure of lyrical composition.

66 begins its forty-two-minute journey in a calmly contemplative way. ‘Ship Of Fools’, the opening track, meanders beautifully in and around Jacko Peake’s mellifluous flute-playing. A notable feature of much of this album is the space which the instrumentation is given to breathe and reinforce the often-melancholic mood. It’s a brilliantly produced record.

‘Nothing’ is a heart-wrenching reminiscence on a time and place that is sadly gone. ‘Rise Up Singing’ – which first appeared on the Monks Road Social’s fantastic album of the same name – is a joyous, soulful Dr Robert co-write that, if sung by Curtis Mayfield in the early seventies, could’ve inspired a movement to (peacefully) take to the streets:

“Rise up singing to the sky
Feel free rising up and high
So loud it’s gonna make you cry
So glad I opened my eyes.”

But my current 66 highlights are two songs co-written with Christophe Vaillant, otherwise known as Le Superhomard. ‘A Glimpse Of You’ is a sumptuously elegant song about longing and it suddenly matters little who composed the lyrics. Weller inhabits this song like it was a perfectly tailored suit. ‘My Best Friend’s Coat’ is my favourite song on the album. I’ve been a fan of Le Superhomard for several years. The mesmerising Gallic melody shifts Vaillant brings to these songs are the primary reason I recall Café Bleu when listening. It’s an absolutely wonderful piece of music, sitting only slightly proud of eleven others.

Nothing. Directed by Jack O’Connell…

Time passes relentlessly, and the realisation that all things will ultimately end is an inevitable part of listening to this record. But regardless, the joy and inspiration that Paul Weller’s music continues to give me is undimmed.

Will you still love me when I’m 66 …!?
Too right I will!

PS: Five minutes after writing the final line of this review, the doorbell went. I rushed downstairs in a similar state of anticipation as when waiting for that shop to open in 1984. It was the pre-ordered vinyl copy of 66 being delivered. The mechanisms of receipt might have changed, but the emotional impact certainly hasn’t.

David F Ross


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