“THERE’S not much else groups can do but play live and make records,” stated Paul Weller in 1992.
Three separate incarnations, spread over the last 40-odd years, has seen Weller at the cutting edge of popular music.
Now, upon the release of his 12th studio album, and 23rd in total – Saturns Pattern (Warner Brothers) – his creative juices don’t appear to be waning anytime soon.
The usual trajectory is that artists burst out of the blocks looking to roll the world into a question, desperate to push at creative boundaries, experiment, and play loose with form and structure.
In later years, their work becomes more traditional, conventional, and bound up in details and craftsmanship.
Weller went through his dreary, classicist period in the late 1990s and early millennium and is now deep into an unexpected and extraordinary Indian summer.
Saturns Pattern is his fourth album of a creative rebirth that began with 2008’s 22 Dreams.
It’s remarkable that this one-time reactionary dad-rocker is now crafting albums that are collages of sound, but it is hugely laudable – and enjoyable.
Saturns Pattern ranges through warped psychedelia, funk, acid rock and off-kilter time signatures, yet is never remotely over-thought or layered for the sake of it.
The opener, White Sky, is a Mod anthem with echoes of Hendrix sprinkled all over it. The title track is a similarly reverb-laden excursion into 1960s pop’s more experimental terrains, with a lone organ whirring and hovering over the tune.
A love song, Going My Way sounds tense and clenched, always on the verge of conflagration. His recent catalogue has paid surprising homage to David Bowie, and Long Time is the latest instalment: its stomping glam riffs and drums and synths could have come straight from Aladdin Sane.
Blur are also a clear influence here. Weller’s drawl is pure Damon Albarn on I’m Where I Should Be, where he mirrors Albarn’s ability to convey many contradictory emotions – anxiety and regret – at once.
On the spacey In The Car, he even makes a chorus of: “I spend my summer nights driving round the M25” sound mystical and poetic. It’s no mean feat.
With production duo Amorphous Androgynous at the controls especially noticeable on White Sky, and bluegrass reeds weaving through In The Car (surely earning a nod from Jack White), this is very much a modern record with a galaxy of musical influences.
Weller hasn’t sounded this gutsy in years. The closing, eight-and-a-half minutes long These Streets is a lovely, episodic musical reverie, with Weller musing aloud on where he has been, and might even go yet.
It’s a fitting coda for a record that demonstrates the artist remains on top of his game.
Key tracks: In The Car, White Sky, These Streets