Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paul Weller - Illumination (2002)

Chas Newkey-Burden warms up to the original Modfather

Illumination, the sixth studio album of celebrated English rocker, singer & songwriter Peter Weller released in 2002 can be described as Weller's boldest solo effort, bursting with soul, character and sentimentality. Weller's never been one to play the game in the music industry but you sense that this, more than ever, in this album. It as if he didn't give a hoot to the music industry or the critics or whether they like it or lump it. 

It opens, as did his last two studio albums Heavy Soul and Heliocentric, with a long, mellow and mysterious track - 'One x One' which clocks in at over five and a half minutes. Featuring Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer of Oasis, it builds into a pleasing crescendo and grows with every listen. After the many masterpieces he produced with The Jam, The Style Council and during his solo career, for a song to be called a 'classic Weller tune', it has to be something special. 

The album's second track 'It's Written In The Stars' is something very special - a soul jive Stevie Wonder would have been proud of. With interesting brass effects, it deserves to be the soundtrack for driving around on a sunny day, with the roof of the car back. Also oozing with soul is 'Standing Out In The Universe', which marked the welcome return of Carleen Anderson and Jocelyn Brown on backing vocals.

So too is 'Leafy Mysteries' which is one of the catchiest tunes on the album. If it's rocking tunes you're after, you'll enjoy 'A Bullet For Everyone' which takes us back to the territory Weller stomped over during his Stanley Road era. But it's on 'Call Me No. 5' that your air guitar will get some real punishment. Weller duets the song with Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics, and the senior statesman wins the who-can-sing-the-most-croakiest-and-bluesiest contest hands down. 

But such noisy moments are few and far between on the mellowest studio album Weller's ever released. There's lots of quiet, acoustic stuff going on here with 'Bag Man' and the title track 'Illumination' most enjoyable, particularly to those still hooked on his acoustic live album Days Of Speed. They're sound of a mature artist for sure, but one who is quite at ease with his age. 

There are a few tracks that don't quite do it. 'Who Brings Joy', the album's most sentimental moment, is the musical equivalent of being cornered by a slightly tipsy man who has just become a father and wants to show you his photos. It's so slushy, it makes his last weepie, 'Sweet Pea', sound like 'Eton Rifles' in comparison. Some people will enjoy the mysterious two and a half minute instrumental 'Spring (At Last)'. But for me, it sounds a bit too much like the background to a self-help hypnosis tape. The final track, 'All Good Books', is a decent enough gospel tune but lacks the importance to work as the closer to the album. 

Overall, though, a cracking album. Weller, his superb material oozing soul, humanity and musicianship, continues to stand head and shoulders over any other British artists of his time. Perhaps his best studio album since Stanley Road, Illumination reminds you that we bandy around the world genius with far too much aplomb nowadays. Weller's one of the very few around at the moment to richly deserve that title. So lets paray he doesnt go hanging up that guitar for a while.  


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