- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

Paul Weller

As Is Now

Yep Roc Records

On the strength of his work in the Jam and, later, the Style Council, Paul Weller could eke out solo albums in perpetuity. While he’s a music lover’s secret here, in the United Kingdom he’s a virtual deity: He was often cited as an influence on the Oasis-and-Blur-dominated British rock scene of the 1990s and edged out legends such as Led Zeppelin in a recent Top 10 poll of British music fans.

“As Is Now,” his latest album, is much better than the water-treading of, say, last year’s set of cover versions, “Studio 150.” It’s got muscle, eclecticism and, overall, bespeaks a Brit who seems to have overcome a long-nursed jones for American soul music and fallen in love with America…the band, that is.

OK, not really — only on a couple of tunes here, such as the marathon folk ballads “Roll Along Summer” and “The Start of Forever.” “Now” also includes a 7-plus-minute jam called “Bring Back the Funk (Pts. 1 & 2),” and the result is closer to, well, America than it is to George Clinton. (Better hold your ears when Mr. Weller employs the colloquial pronoun “y’all.”)

Fortunately, that’s not all there is to “Now,” a solid record whose detours (among them the soulful chamber pieces “Pan” and “The Pebble and the Boy”) are nearly as intriguing as its hard-rocking core.

Mr. Weller gets by with a little help from an important friend — guitarist Steve Cradock of British psych-rockers (and Weller worshipers) Ocean Colour Scene. After Mr. Weller kicks off “Now” with the metallic funk-rock riff of “Blink,” Mr. Cradock adds little octave flourishes that cinch the song. He sprays similar air-fresheners all over the garage-y “Paper Smile.”

Compared to the placid affair that was 2002’s “Illumination,” Mr. Weller dials up the rock quotient here. Its F-bomb snarl, “Come On Let’s Go,” finds the singer sounding friskier than he has in years. And the album’s first single, “From the Floorboards Up,” kicks with a T. Rexian goose step.

Mr. Weller still has a heart for the Yanks on “Here’s the Good News,” a piano-pop novelty with a bouncy rhythm, honking Dixieland horns and weird chord changes that mingle the gritty simplicity of John Hiatt with the cool sophistication of Randy Newman. And echoes of Muscle Shoals aren’t far from the sweet breeze of “I Wanna Make It Alright.”

“Now” has winners to spare, including the Weller-loves-Lennon folk-rockers “Savages” and “Fly Little Bird.”

Betcha the brothers Gallagher won’t be making records this good, if at all, when they’re pushing 50.

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