Love him or loathe him, Paul Weller’s refusal to re-enact his golden years on the heritage circuit makes him a singular presence in British rock. However, for diehards the obsessive quest for new musical horizons which began with 2008’s pivotal 22 Dreams album has often been more intriguing than inspiring.
Mercifully, then, Saturn’s Pattern – its name inspired by T.Rex-style wordplay rather than astronomical reasons – isn’t an abstract companion piece to 2012’s kraut-punk-dub odyssey Sonik Kicks.
Weller has spoken recently about his desire to restore some ‘soul’ to his music, and, following the exit of former producer Simon Dine – who supplied the musical framework for Sonik Kicks – it signals a reconnection to both his own (and his audience’s) core musical values.
Opener White Sky sets the tone. Rescued from abortive sessions with the Amorphous Androgynous, it’s a scalding, bleep-heavy blues delivered with a paint-stripping intensity reminiscent of 1997’s Heavy Soul. By far the noisiest thing here, it acts as a palette cleanser for what follows while, crucially, re-establishing the emphasis on the groove.
During the next 40 minutes, then, we get Meters-like funk (Pick It Up), stirring mod-rock (Saturn’s Pattern) bubblegum pop (I’m Where I Should Be) and frequent moments of pop splendour. Going My Way in particular is a corker, combining piano balladry with breezy Sgt Pepper-esque “doo-be-doo” harmonies, while psychedelic finale These City Streets is nine minutes of sun-drenched psychedelia.
The presence of old Jam oppo Steve Brookes on slide guitar during a pop-art inspired In The Car, meanwhile, only adds to the sense of Weller returning to what he knows best. This sense of self-assurance is mirrored by the lyrics. The title track casts Weller as a doting dad, while Phoenix is a jazzy, Association-esque shuffle that finds him, literally, smelling the flowers, overwhelmed by the ‘Scent in the air/The beauty everywhere’. For an artist whose trademark is vein-bulging intensity, it’s an unlikely state of affairs.
But, at 56, Weller’s belated mid-life contentment suits him, the beatific mood made explicit on garage stomp Long Time, where he hollers: ‘For such a long time I had them urban blues’.
Weller’s restless muse will no doubt ensure a change of course next time around. But long term fans will breathe a sigh of relief that The Modfather is finally back on familiar turf./o:p