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Paul Weller - On Sunset (Album Review)

Tuesday, 14 July 2020 Written by Rhys Thomas

When the first track on a 13 song album runs to more than seven minutes, what follows will either tap into an exploratory sense of purpose or meander into nothingness. Fortunately, the longest opening gambit in Paul Weller’s 26 album career (taking the Jam and the Style Council into consideration) sets the table for something a little unusual and the rest of ‘On Sunset’ delivers.

In truth, Mirror Ball could be three songs. It contains enough material to fill the average EP—dissonant synths, classical piano, choral work and a grandiose vocal that ushers in Style Council soul-pop, a progressive breakdown and glitzy disco bass—and yet it feels cohesive as one long piece.  It represents brand new territory for Weller, and it’s one of his best tracks in years thanks to a feeling of discovery rather than indulgence.

On the other hand, Baptise leans into classic mellow-soul Weller and nails it, showing that the quality is generally on point throughout. Old Father Tyme blends the two extremes and does so remarkably well.

Its subdued French house beat (think old Daft Punk) and squelchy guitar lines battle with pop-rock piano, acoustic and eventually glam-rock guitars. It shouldn’t work but Weller’s vocals act as the gravity keeping everything in place. It’s as unique a track as any released in 2020, and all within four minutes. 

The high bar set in moments like these doesn’t do many favours for a song like Village, which is enjoyable at its core but less memorable given the overall standard. Placing it before the standout More does it a notable disservice. The second longest track, at just shy of seven minutes, More blends Weller tropes past and present as Style Council violins and suspended chords butt up against jazz-inspired hip hop percussion and an almost avant-garde instrumental break. It feels like a secondary epic within the record.  

The main issue with ‘On Sunset’ is, unusually for Weller, the lyrics. They’re absolutely fine, but he has spent the best part of four decades crafting some of the most straightforward, meaningful lyrics around so ‘fine’ doesn’t really cut it. Perhaps this gripe has something to do with the first-rate songwriting, but it feels strange to listen to a Weller record and not have a pearl of wisdom rattling around your head.  

The final quarter of the album elevates ‘On Sunset’ from average to very good once more. Rockets is tender, near Bowie-esque in sound and concept, yet it keeps Weller’s punk sensibilities intact. “All our lives / The system all decides / The institution's old / But still in control,” he sings, elegant in his attack. 

A highly philosophical record that utilises the theme of sunset as a metaphor for the end of time, or at least the passage into a new chapter, the innovative, modern, and eclectic influences of ‘On Sunset’ suggest that Weller remains as optimistic as ever in his musical pursuits.

Paul Weller Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri March 05 2021 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Sat March 06 2021 - NORWICH Norwich U.E.A.
Sun March 07 2021 - SOUTHEND Cliffs Pavilion
Tue March 09 2021 - LLANDUDNO Venue Cymru
Thu March 11 2021 - MIDDLESBROUGH Middlesbrough Town Hall
Fri March 12 2021 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Sat March 13 2021 - ABERDEEN Music Hall
Mon March 15 2021 - STOKE Victoria Hall
Tue March 16 2021 - LIVERPOOL Eventim Olympia
Wed March 17 2021 - OXFORD New Theatre
Fri March 19 2021 - MARGATE Margate Winter Gardens
Sat March 20 2021 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall Southampton
Mon March 22 2021 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Tue March 23 2021 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Thu March 25 2021 - BELFAST Ulster Hall
Thu June 24 2021 - PLYMOUTH Plymouth Pavilions
Fri June 25 2021 - PORTSMOUTH Guildhall
Sat June 26 2021 - BRIGHTON Centre
Mon June 28 2021 - HULL Bonus Arena, Hull
Tue June 29 2021 - YORK York Barbican
Thu July 01 2021 - LEICESTER De Montfort Hall
Fri July 02 2021 - LEICESTER De Montfort Hall
Sun July 04 2021 - BLACKBURN King Georges Hall
Mon July 05 2021 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Tue July 06 2021 - DUNDEE Caird Hall
Thu July 08 2021 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Fri July 09 2021 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Newcastle City Hall
Sat July 10 2021 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 City Hall
Mon July 12 2021 - CARLISLE Sands Centre
Tue July 13 2021 - BRADFORD St Georges Hall
Thu July 15 2021 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Fri July 16 2021 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town
Sat July 17 2021 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town

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