Reviewed by Stuart Loasby
Although he is best known for his achievements in the Jam and the Style Council through the '70s and '80s, Paul Weller's solo career, which began in 1992, has proved very successful.
Weller was never afraid of trying new things; it mattered not whether his audience liked what he was doing.
The Jam were one of the rare groups to survive the late '70s British punk explosion. Weller, at 18, made every effort through his songs to expose the social trauma Britain was going through at the time. Songs like "Going Underground" ("You choose your leaders and place your trust — But their lies wash you down and their promises rust"), "Smithers — Jones" ("It's time to relax now you've worked your arse off — but the only one laughing is the sun tanned boss") and "Town Called Malice" all gave Weller the chance to express his politics.
By 1982, Weller felt the Jam had reached their creative peak. Wanting to take new musical directions, Weller split the band to form a group which would give him the chance not only to express his love of soul and jazz, but also to express his politics.
The Style Council never reached the success of the Jam, but it gave Weller the opportunity to expose the situation Britain was in at the time. The Council's second single, "Money Go Round" is a well-observed look at Thatcher's Britain. Unemployment was on the rise and more money was being spent on arms than on education. Weller was a socialist and made no bones about it.
The Style Council's first album, Cafe Bleu, was not a favourite among Weller devotees, perhaps due to the fact that it features a number of jazzy instrumentals ("Dropping Bombs on the Whitehouse"), a rap song and the soul-influenced "You're the Best Thing".
It wasn't until their second album, Our favourite Shop, that things started to make sense. "Walls Come Tumbling Down" is probably the most powerful track on the album.
Lyrically and politically, Weller was at his peak. In 1986, the Style Council embarked upon a tour, the Red Wedge, which was a movement to promote socialist left politics to young people. This tour caused Weller to lose faith in the British Labour left, remarking that the politicians had bigger egos than the acts.
Two more albums followed, but neither matched the critical acclaim of the first two. If making a soul-inspired record (Cost Of Loving) wasn't enough to confuse his audience, Weller pursued his love of modern jazz by releasing an album far removed from anything the Jam ever recorded. The last album, Confessions of a Pop Group, was the last straw for both fans and the record company (Polydor). Weller was dropped.
1993's Wildwood album brought Weller back into the limelight. Weller re-emerged with a liking for pastoral countryside images and sentimental love songs.
Where Wildwood was laid back, Stanley Road is musically more aggressive. The lyrical content shows how far Weller has come as both a musician and a person. The most personal track on the album is "Porcelain Gods", a semi-autobiographical song about a fallen icon.
It's not until the last song that we hear how Weller's voice has ripened into a truly strong and mature sound. What makes the song most effective is the introduction of British soul singer Carleen Anderson, who gives the song a beautiful, almost gospel feel. Also on the album are Steve Winwood (formerly of Traffic), Noel Gallegher (Oasis) and former Style Council pianist Mick Talbot. Overall, Stanley Road is an album true in sound and emotion.