I’d previously always struggled with Weller. I never really cared for The Jam or The Style Council and most of his solo stuff left me cold. Recently, however, I’ve been making efforts to rectify this, to find out if I’ve missed anything. It turns out, much to my surprise (and delight), that I have.
I think one of the biggest problems I had with Weller was his voice. It always sounded to me to be too caustic and one-dimensional. I always loved The Jam’s Liza Radley, for instance, but felt it never quite reached classic ballad status due to the vocal (the same strident voice he used on practically all of The Jam’s records). But as I was listening to all those songs again, particularly to those I’d heard many times before, it struck me that the key to Weller – to his voice, to his whole being if you like – is energy. It’s so obvious that I’m amazed I missed it.
Perhaps this is where I struggled with The Jam – that energy was the overriding, dominant, force. You can hear in all of those Jam records that Weller is a brilliant musician and guitar player but listening again – and listening properly – I realised just how intricate and intelligent a lot of those songs are and what a highly gifted melodocist he is. So finally, I’m able to appreciate and enjoy those songs without wishing he’d have slowed things down a bit, or sung them better, or softened the production, or added harmonies or strings or something.
The energy thing, I think, explains a lot about Weller: why he’s restless and still forging ahead and still determined to do something different. But also why he’s thin and why he’s got so many kids. And why he’s still a contrary git who’ll do what he likes and fuck you if you don’t like it. In this respect, he reminds me very much of Mark E Smith.
The other thing I discovered on my Weller odyssey is that his second to last album, Wake Up The Nation, is his masterpiece. It’s an astonishing record. Adventurous, clever, funny and often moving. In the space of forty minutes, over 16 tracks, he covers just about every base in popular music. The energy of it all is thrilling, made all the more impressive given his age and position. He didn’t have to make a record like that. He could have easily just coasted along, churning out the kind of stuff that’d keep Bradley Wiggins happy. But beginning with the excellent 22 Dreams (and continuing with his recent Sonik Kicks LP), he seems determined to become a one-man advertisement for all that’s great about British pop music.
So yes, I’ve re-evaluated my opinion about Weller. Good for me.
Here then, is one of the songs from Wake Up The Nation: a rather glorious slice of uplifting pop. It’s tricksy and clever but also simple and anthemic, not least in the “Sha la la” refrain towards the end. Stirring stuff.
And if you haven’t heard Wake Up The Nation, do give it a go. Listen out, especially, for Trees – Weller’s White Album in the space of a four-minute song.
Below is the version from Jools Holland’s programme.