Musicians who have been around for decades often find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place; the desire (desperation?) to remain relevant is often incongruous with the ability to stay faithful to their past. In short, it can be all too easy to come across as, well . . . a bit silly.
Paul Weller is not one of those musicians. The Modfather has managed to keep his output both interesting and progressive throughout his lengthy career, particularly on his consistent recent fare, including 2017's sonically eclectic A Kind Revolution and 2018's folky True Meanings.
His 15th album continues that winning form, this time adding a deep soul groove in a loose, relaxed style. Just listen to Mirror Ball – a song that only a musician with over four decades of experience would be brave enough to open an album with. A sprawling eight-minute-long concoction of ELO-style ’80s synth-pop and a scattering of samples and field recordings, it careens in various directions before landing back to earth with a neat thud.
The same is true of much of On Sunset. Although not every song here is as wildly ambitious, that laidback, freewheeling vibe runs through songs such as the rich, twangy strut of standout track Baptiste, the soulful Van Morrison-esque Old Father Tyme, the playful ’60s-style pop of Equanimity (which sounds like a Kinks song) and Ploughman (which sounds like an homage to The Zombies).
Rockets brazenly pays tribute to Bowie’s Starman; I’ll Think of Something nods to the melancholic flutter of his own English Rose; and More, a not-so-subtle denunciation of consumerism (“All I do is spend my time dreaming of a place/ Where I find such happiness, but little gain from having more”) shimmies and shuffles beautifully with brass and gliding strings.
Admittedly, Weller takes that sense of experimentation a little too far; the spacey zig-zag of Earth Beat, featuring London r’n’b artist Col3trane, threatens to tip into the aforementioned “desperation zone”.
As much of Weller’s recent lyrical output has suggested, he is perhaps more comfortable in his own skin than ever before, and he’s not afraid to tell people about it here. Old Father Tyme urges people to “hang on to what is real”; the title track proclaims that he has “no long goodbye, no point to prove” anymore, while Village is a brazen dismissal of FOMO culture, with the contented 62-year-old announcing there’s “not a single thing I’d change if I could”.
It’s an upbeat album in all respects, and testament to Weller’s commitment to make interesting, engaging music. Perhaps most importantly, it sounds like he’s still having a lot of fun.
[ paulweller.com ]