Now undeniably a British institution, Paul Weller clocked up his half-century at the end of May, and he’s spent a couple of years collaborating with a raft of other bands/musicians before returning with this, his ninth solo studio album. And what a return: 22 Dreams’ breadth of musical invention and bold sense of adventure belies his age. Sure, its contemplative vibe reflects a certain maturity, but this is not so much “pipe and slippers” as a reefer and a pair of well-travelled brogues.
If Weller spent much of the 80s trying to shed the legacy of The Jam, then the last decade has found each solo record being compared against the million-selling Stanley Road. Previous LP As Is Now was a surefire return to form but followed the same tried-and-tested path: one band, one short-and-sweet recording studio sojourn. Keepin’ it live. Now, at last, he’s thrown that template away.
Weller’s inspiration has often come from his record collection, and a fondness for acid folk is evident on the opening Light Nights and Where’er Ye Go, but the album is interwoven with much less conventional fare: the spoken-word God, an ode to spirituality read by Aziz Ibrahim, which is closer to Arab Strab than Britpop; the lush atmospherics of Song For Alice (a tribute to Alice Coltrane); the Krautrock experimentation of 111; or the sprawling, six-minute soundscape of a finale, Night Lights.
Seasoned by alcohol and tobacco that Woking warble conveys a soulful, bruised emotion more potently than ever via Weller’s now-familiar lyrical themes of spirituality, Mother Nature, mortality, loss, vulnerability and love. 22 Dreams, then, shares the passionate schizophrenia of The Beatles’ “White Album” or, indeed, Weller’s Style Council swansong, Confessions Of A Pop Group. The Modfather may be 50 but he’s very definitely not out.