Sunday, September 8, 2013

Classic Album Review: Paul Weller - Wild Wood (1993)

Paul Weller has been many things to many people over the years; angry young mod and ace social commentator with The Jam, purveyor of retro-chic and fine soul music with the Style Council, and during a solo career that has easily outlasted each of those earlier incarnations, he’s since gone on to become one of pop’s most influential and much loved elder statesmen … as the Godfather of Britpop (aka the ‘”Modfather”) and the undisputed king of “dad rock”.

Personally, I’m not too fond of the latter label, but it’s one I’ve heard too many times to simply ignore; Weller’s Jam and Style Council audiences – a large proportion of them being teenage boys at the time (late Seventies, early Eighties) – grew up, had families of their own, and given the sheer quality of his ongoing work it is only natural that a fair few of them continued (and continue) to avidly follow Weller’s career.

Wild Wood was Weller’s second full-length solo release, and it rates as something of a marked improvement on his eponymous debut album of a year earlier, which lacked the vibrancy and consistency many of his fans had become accustomed to. Wild Wood was widely hailed as a major return to form at the time, and it’s an assertion that still holds true some 20 years after its release.

The thing I most like about Wild Wood – and I’ll put my cards on the table here and say it’s one of my top 25 albums of all-time – is how natural the whole thing feels. Although Stanley Road is often touted as Weller’s key solo work, there is the sense on this album that we’re getting the true Paul Weller, a return to his roots, with a number of brilliant and relatively timeless songs. Nothing flash, just plenty of introspective and searching lyrics, with a certain vulnerability exposed, and there’s a genuine acoustic and pastoral feel about the whole project.

If The Jam paid tribute to Small Faces, The Who, The Kinks and the like, and The Style Council presented a glossed up version of Motown and Sixties soul, then Wild Wood ventures back to the same era to give us a small taste of the original summer of love. Whisper it, but this just might be Paul Weller’s “hippy” album. It’s certainly the closest he’s ever come to being a paisley-tinged folkie.

Well, he was never a true punk anyway, that much was always apparent, so don’t buy those accusations of selling out. The late Sixties, in one way or another, informs just about everything Weller has done over the years, yet so frequently he’s all too readily associated with that whole late Seventies anti-establishment/punk thing. Weller is a wordsmith and musician first and foremost. The beauty of going solo meant he no longer had to conform to other people’s stereotypes. There were no wars or crusades to be fought, he could simply do what felt most comfortable – and I think that’s what we get on Wild Wood.

Highlights: first off, there’s no filler on Wild Wood, even the brief instrumental interludes fit snugly, but if I had to single out five tracks for the download generation: the opener ‘Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)’, the lead-off single ‘Sunflower’, the title-track itself – ‘Wild Wood’ (one of his best songs ever, no question), ‘Has My Fire Really Gone Out’, and a toss up between either ‘The Weaver’ or ‘Shadow Of The Sun’. But even at that, all of the above should be heard in the context for which they were intended – not as separate parts of a greater whole, but as contributing segments of a pretty special album by one of pop’s finest exponents … if not actually the best British songwriter of his generation (closely followed by Morrissey, Joe Strummer, and Elvis Costello).

Here's the title track:


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