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Paul Weller
22 Dreams Steve Jelbert , June 3rd, 2008 00:00

Paul Weller - 22 Dreams

Hitting fifty and apparently transforming into dwarfish billionaire Bernie Eccleston, Paul Weller needs all the ego boosting he can get. But some of the praise this occasionally inspired, often underwhelming set has received is bewildering. Wellah never gets much respect from hacks, largely because of his public image as a curmudgeonly old sod with all the charm of a hungover Van Morrison (though at least he’ll never be mistaken for a minicab driver). But to an alert listener all his recordings - even Catch-Flame, that sprawling 2006 live set that not even the most up-for-it punter would have wanted to endure again- include flashes of musical acuity that prove, damn it, the Modfather does have something.

But that something never holds the ear for an entire album. When records were thirty-five minutes long, the Jam could just about pull it off. One of the worst hours of my life was spent in a Californian hammock, unable to reach the remote control to skip past the weak moments of a Style Council Best Of. Now that was a Long Hot Bummer In The Summer. 22 Dreams (rather delightfully, there are 21 tracks) is no exception.

Loosely following a year in beautiful, er, Surrey, it varies from the full throttle moddery of the title track and the charming, fuzzy ’All I Wanna Do Is Be With You’ (more proof that Bowie’s single most influential song was the deceptively slight ’Sound and Vision’) to the prog noodling of ’111’. ’Light Nights’ is a gruff folk ballad, unusual for Weller but hardly innovative, while ’Empty Ring’ is built around a spiffy set of soul samples, an entirely run of the mill development that threw one reviewer completely (It’s bad form to name and shame other critics for after all, if one of us is wrong then we’re all wrong, but this one looks more like Frank Sidebottom than the rest). There is just so much filler here; the flaccid ’Invisible’; ’The Dark Pages of September Lead To The New Leaves Of Spring’, as memorable as its cod-poetic title; the relaxingly predictable solo piano piece ’Lullaby Fur Kinder’ (a bilingual tautology, surely?); ’God’, a spoken- word piece certain to be programmed out by many. Even the much-vaunted swinging instrumental ’Song For Alice’ evokes Primal Scream, or maybe Talk Talk, more effectively than the work of the late Mrs Coltrane. Most peculiar of all is ’Where’Er Ye Go’, a tribute to Tom Waits, the Scots or both.

Yet it has a certain coherence. A consistently sparse approach means that neat songs like ’Why Walk When You Can Run’ retain a snap shot freshness. Drum loops frequently replace a full kit, giving the songs a warm and underproduced feel. Conversely, it could do without the endless piano tinklings. Oh sod it. It goes on a bit, a few of the songs are very good and several aren’t and the singer grunts a lot. And it sounds quite a lot like sixties pastoral hippies Traffic, just like all of Wellah’s other solo records. That’s the thing about mods. They never truly change.