- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paul Weller

22 Dreams

Yeproc Records

It’s hard to explain the disconnect between Paul Weller’s abiding fame in his native Britain and his continued obscurity on these shores. Perhaps obscurity is too strong a word. Certainly, the work of Mr. Weller’s groundbreaking punk-era band, the Jam, is well known even to casual music snobs.

Yet while the Jam was releasing rafts of top-10 hits in the United Kingdom, the group toured the U.S. as an opening act. Some critics have suggested the Jam was too steeped in British idiom to make a splash in the States, but this belies Mr. Weller’s love of American soul and R&B motifs coupled with his twangy, infectious, Rickenbacker-fueled melodies. It’s more likely that at the dawn of the MTV era, the Jam lacked the visually compelling elements that propelled certain less-gifted British contemporaries to intercontinental fame and fortune.

If the name Paul Weller is new to you, do yourself a favor and pick up “Snap,” the astonishing 29-track compilation of the Jam’s hits. The genre-spanning pastiche of his latest release, “22 Dreams,” is not useful as an introduction to Mr. Weller because it’s more of an homage to the music he loves than it is a brilliant career in microcosm. It’s so wildly divergent and eclectic that it is daunting even to describe.

There is an instrumental ode to Alice Coltrane (“Song for Alice”) that originates as a spree of wild piano arpeggios rooted by a low, rumbling boogie-woogie rhythm - before it transforms in an instant into an orgy of saxophone wails. That’s followed by “Cold Moments,” a breezy, organ-driven soul song with vocal passages offering stylistic nods to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. “All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)” is another soul-inspired track, but with a hint of punk-rock chaos and distortion. The honeyed opening guitar hook is as catchy as anything on the album, but Mr. Weller shows off his maturity as a songwriter and arranger as the modest trills of guitar and bass add buoyancy and verve around the edges of the tune.

There is rock here, too - most notably the acid “Echoes Round the Sun.” Written in collaboration with Noel Gallagher of Oasis, it’s possessed of the seemingly random, electric gyrations of a Cream song, and Mr. Weller honors the track’s musical heritage with his whispery warble on the vocal part. Oasis guitarist Gem Archer provides a dose of Mellotron in addition to a few scorching guitar licks.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Lullaby fur Kinder,” an instrumental for piano, violin and viola. That’s followed by “Where’er Ye Go,” a mournful, Coldplay-like piano hymn that pairs Mr. Weller’s sonorous tenor with a funereal violin line. The lyrics are stark and essential - brooding and comforting all at once. Mr. Weller sings, “And where’er ye go/ That we’ll never know/ But as long as you come back/ That’s all that really matters.”

In a time when iconic bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Police have reunited for lucrative concert tours, Mr. Weller steadfastly refuses to get the Jam back together.

At age 50, he has the luxury of doing exactly what he wants to do. The result is one of the most satisfying imports so far this year.

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