a skilful, layered album that pays homage to rock music

a skilful, layered album that pays homage to rock music


Paul Weller’s new album 66 is a far cry from the fiery vigour of Weller’s early work with The Jam and The Style Council. It’s also different from solo hits like The Changingman (1995) or even, more recently, the grittier moments on 2021’s Fat Pop. But by taking his foot off the gas somewhat, Weller seems keen to take in the view and a comparative lack of feistiness doesn’t mean a lack of purpose.

Indeed, this being his 17th solo studio album – following six with The Jam and five with The Style Council – Weller’s work ethic, at least, shows no signs of flagging. Nor his capacity to roam around pop’s past and present in search of inspiration.

66 is named partly for his age at release and partly, he claims, for 1966 – the year that produced much of the music that fired him up in the first place.

The mid-1960s have long been a musical touchstone for Weller. When writing Start (1982), The Jam were listening to The Beatles’ Revolver album and the influence of songs like Taxman is clear. Weller is known for channelling the energy and bile of The Who’s opening chapter and the soul-inspired mod movement – it wasn’t for nothing that Weller acquired “The Modfather” as a nickname.

There are certainly nods to that era here, not least in the album cover by pop artist Sir Peter Blake, whose work graced releases by The Who and, most famously The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But while the soul music inflections that colour much of his work are still present, 66 generally finds Weller in a more ruminative mood.

Insofar as he draws from the 1960s and 70s aurally, it’s the more melodic and narrative, rather than rebellious and declarative, strands of those eras’ musical history. The lilting, shifting chord patterns of A Glimpse of You call Burt Bacharach to mind. While the fingerpicked acoustic guitar of Sleepy Hollow carries shades of tragic troubadour Nick Drake.

As engaging as all this is, the glimpses of a harder edge are a welcome change of pace. The Rolling Stones-esque horns (from their Exile on Main Street-era pomp) on Jumble Queen, with lyrics by Noel Gallagher, and the more riff-driven single Soul Wandering, a collaboration with Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, add a touch of bite. Still, these are outliers.

It’s possible to imagine them as staples of a live show, but the more interesting elements here are in some of the more oblique moments – the loping waltz of My Best Friend’s Coat and the drifting album-closer Burn Out, for instance.

With its long guitar slides, this latter song carries strong echoes of Pink Floyd in their exploratory phase, before the gargantuan success of Dark Side of the Moon locked their sound into a template. There’s even a nod to Floyd’s Echoes (1971) part way through, deliberately or otherwise.

Weller has always worn his influences on his sleeve. What helps him avoid being merely derivative is both the amount of influences and his facility for synthesising potentially disparate sources. And so it is here.

With meandering flutes, autumnal strings, choppy, disco guitar chords and stuttering synths swirled together, the production is busy, but not cluttered. The risk of this approach is that it lacks distinctiveness, and can drift towards excess.

Weller mostly, though, avoids seeming as if he’s thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks. Rock is an ageing art form, and his willingness to pull its various threads together yields texture, rather than untidiness. The album rarely pushes the boundaries of the genre, but the collaborative approach foregrounds Weller’s skill as an arranger and interpreter. While he leans on the past, as he reaches a pensionable age, he doesn’t appear willing to be a hostage to it.

Despite his track record, he shies away from the “heritage” label and leaning into nostalgia by retreading his hits – something he says has cost him fans in the past. There have been no reunion tours or albums for The Jam or Style Council, and he has eschewed the arena shows that artists of his vintage could doubtless carry.

This seems to have paid off – he’s had a number one album in every decade since the 1980s. Whether 66 will repeat the trick is hard to say. It’s perhaps unlikely to garner him any new fans, yet it bears repeated listening and will reward those who have stuck with him so far.

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