Artists with three and a half decades on the clock rarely sound this way, but then with that sort of track record, they aren’t often still at the top of both their creative form and the charts.
“I find a lot of music really tame,” muses Paul Weller, “and this is my reaction against that. I’m trying to stir something up, I suppose, in my mind, and just get people excited about music again.”
Those could almost be words spoken by the angry young man who first broke into the British charts just before his 19th birthday, spitting out the lyrics of The Jam’s new wave rabble-rouser “In The City.” But as a well-traveled 53-year-old, Weller has lost none of his spirit of adventure, and his massive audience continues to accompany him on the journey.
Weller’s new, 11th solo studio album “Sonik Kicks,” released in the U.K. by Universal Island last Monday, stood at No. 1 in “midweek” sales data from the Official Charts Company in sales to the end of Thursday of 24,000 units, some 6,000 ahead of the Military Wives’ “In My Dreams.” The OCC will unveil the official chart for the full sales week on Sunday.
The album, which features guest appearances by Noel Gallagher and Blur’s Graham Coxon, is released in the U.S. next Tuesday (March 27) by Yep Roc. “We have a very tight window for having Paul physically in the States,” says Yep Roc co-owner Glenn Dicker, “so we’re really pushing to maximize his visit to New York to play the Best Buy Theater May 18 and 19.” Weller also plays “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” May 17.
Weller himself is pleased to find his mojo in good working order. “Since I’ve hit my 50s, in my twilight years” – he allows himself the merest of smiles – “there is that spirit of adventure. I think the new record is really cutting edge, really modern, and I don’t think there’s anything else around that sounds like it, regardless of age or status or whatever.”
In a career that began in the new wave with The Jam before a seismic shift into pop-soul with his 1980s band the Style Council, and then into further experimentation in his solo career from the early 1990s onwards, Weller has never been happy just to repeat a successful formula.
After five years of unbroken success, including four No. 1 singles, that turned him into an unwilling spokesman for a generation, Weller disbanded The Jam in 1982. He then rode the charts for the rest of that decade with the Style Council, scoring a string of top ten singles including “Long Hot Summer” and “My Ever Changing Moods.” He didn’t put his own name on record until 1991, effectively restarting his career with a back-to-basics sound and approach.
“It was funny starting up again, because I got to go and play much smaller places,” he recalls. “That was kind of weird, almost like everything I’d done before didn’t count for anything, but it was a good lesson to learn. But there was a certain autonomy and sense of freedom about that period that I really loved.”
By the mid-1990s, Weller was back at the top, following 1993’s acclaimed “Wild Wood” with his first solo No. 1 album “Stanley Road” two years later. His new relevance, and respect among the burgeoning “Britpop” generation of musicians, had him crowned “The Modfather.” Remarkably, all but one of his solo albums since have either topped the U.K. chart or reached No. 2.
Clearly believing he’s only as good as his next song, Weller introduced “Sonik Kicks” with three shows at London’s Roundhouse earlier this month in which he and his band played the whole of the new album, before launching into a run of crowd-pleasing hits.
“My intention is, I want to blow people’s minds,” says Weller, “for people to come away from the gig really thinking they’ve seen something special, and go home buzzing about it.”