Paul Weller – ‘Stanley Road’

Following Weller’s musical resurrection with his debut solo album in 1992, his follow up the next year further enhanced his status. Wild Wood was a stunning album, a notable step up from Paul Weller it was heavier and more soulful, blending folk and psychedelic bluesy jams. Steve Craddock was in and adding the perfect musical foil to Weller’s swank and vigor.

For five or so years from ’94 I saw Weller live more than a dozen times, and he was never less than totally captivating. His passion completely dominated his live performances, riding as he was on the crest of adulation from not just the new wave of Britpop admirers but also his original Jam and Style Council fanatics. Weller’s devotion to his art is unquestionable and his influences are celebrated through his music, never better than on his classic ’95 release, Stanley Road.

Musically, those influences are all over the back of Peter Blake’s album cover: Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane figurines, Artetha Franklin, John Lennon, a dude on a scooter plus mod and Stax iconography. You know where he’s at. For me, Weller’s influences are right at home in my record collection and on Stanley Road they shine magnificently. That said, this is a Weller album through and through; heavy and soulful with a groove that has attitude pulsing at its heart. Changing Man is just a classic Weller single and with Porcelain Gods and Dr. John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters the voodoo groove is blues swamp perfection.

The groove becomes more soulful through Stanley Road and Broken Stones before the intensity returns on the glorious Out Of The Sinking. It’s all there; a rock and blues stomp with Yolanda Charles and Steve White’s rhythm matched by Carleen Anderson’s stunning gospel vocals. The slower, piano lead tracks are great, but for me it was all about the full band at full tilt, and that was at its peak on Whirlpool’s End, a live classic that showcased the skills of Brendan Lynch and rhythm king, Steve White.

Ten years later Paul Weller said: “Stanley Road was one of those perfect moments when everything slotted into place naturally. It was a dream… Initially I wanted to call the album Shit or Bust, because that’s how I felt about it. I put everything into it, emotionally and physically. It was the culmination of my solo career to date. I knew it was special. We had a playback and I could sense the excitement among the people listening to it.”

To me, in over 40 years over making music Stanley Road is Weller’s best ever album. He was idolised by two generations, he’d just split from his wife DC Lee and he was partying with much gusto. His creative juices were fully fuelled, no doubt stimulated by his contemporaries who looked up to him for inspiration, and boy did he deliver.

Paul Weller – ‘Paul Weller’

The last Style Council album I bought was Our Favourite Shop in 1985. I loved it. I didn’t bother with Home And Abroad, the ’96 live album, and by the time The Cost Of Loving came out in the next year my near ten-year obsession with Paul Weller was over. The bland, sickly slick faux-soul was not for me. Ditto next year’s Confessions Of A Pop Group. By ‘90 and with no more Style Council, Paul Weller was no more on my mind, especially as I was otherwise engaged somewhere in a van in Europe. 1991 was the same, except swap Europe for the USA. But, whilst I was finding myself overseas, Paul Weller was finding his musical mojo having lost it somewhere he didn’t really belong. And find it he most certainly did.

I bought Paul Weller’s self-titled debut solo album at the tail end of ’92 whilst living in Dublin, a city with the same energy, spirit and passion as that fantastic comeback album. The Paul Weller Movement was the start, re-introducing Steve White on the sticks, and Brendan Lynch as a mixer, co-producer and beat-king. Weller had released Into Tomorrow in ’91 and my interest was instantly alerted. Uh Huh, Oh Yeh and Above The Clouds were released in ‘92 heightening my interest so by the time Paul Weller was released later that year I was all ears. I couldn’t wait.

Going into 1993 dance music was dominating everything. House, techno, garage, RnB, hip-hop and all sorts of cheese was stinking out the charts. Britpop was about to kick-off and shake shit up. Weller must’ve felt something in the air because his solo debut was perfectly timed, riding the wave of the blossoming acid jazz scene, and bands like Suede, Saint Etienne, Pulp and Blur who were making new music; a new British sound with more than a nod to the ‘60s. Paul Weller fitted right in, blending and mix of mellow and acid jazz rhythms with heavy riffs and, thank fuck, that forgotten Weller attitude and swagger. Most importantly, he was writing great songs again.

The singles set the tone with Above The Clouds perfectly easy groove matching the riff-heavy Into Tomorrow. Steve White was a brilliant blast of energy and skill with Bull-Rush, Round And Round, Amongst Butterflies and Bitterness Rising showcasing his prowess, and with the dubby trip-fest closer Kosmos the album felt brilliantly of its time. At the time for me these 12 tracks were more than a launch pad to Weller’s solo career, they recaptured my belief in the man himself, and when you’ve believed in an artist as much as I and a nation of other teenagers had done ten years earlier, that felt huge. It felt like our hero had returned.

The Style Council – ‘Café Bleu’

So, there were Jam fans from day one who dug the early stuff, the attitude heavy, Pistols-inspired In The City. Then there’s younger, late starters like me who were never part of that scene, who came along in 1980 when the funk was already creeping into the music. When The Jam folded it hit fans hard, and when The Style Council started there were many expecting The Jam part two. The Style Council were anything but, and thousands were gutted. Not me.

Sure, it took some time to adjust expectations, but with Weller I had to be open-minded, trust the man’s instincts, and like much of the best music, just give it time. The first EP release Introducing The Style Council was soaked in the new jazz sound that was clearly just the mod direction Weller was travelling. It had a few of the band’s early singles and set the tone for what was to come. The Jam were nowhere to be seen.

Café Bleu was the debut long-player and stylistically as well as musically it felt fresh, invigorating and totally transitional. Different inspirations were being referenced; the poetry and jazz of the beat generation in particular, which of course led to instant investigation. This was no tipping a toe into a new sound, this was piano and Hammond heavy and just oozed coffee house culture. As much as Mick Talbot was the prominent visual foil to Weller’s cool, musically he shared that role with the rhythm boy wonder, 18 year-old Steve White.

The cool brushed snare on Blue Café and The Paris Match was as musically contrary to Rick Buckler as you could hear, and Talbot’s keys shared prominence with Weller’s guitar. Tracey Thorn and Dee C. Lee’s vocals soothed in a way Weller never could, but more than anything the album radiated an overwhelming air of positivity and hope; an uplifting tone which shone through even the weaker tracks, A Gospel and Strength Of Your Nature, which jolted the album’s flow.

For me, The Style Council peaked early. My Ever Changing Moods was that peak and follow up album Our Favourite Shop was equally as inspiring; again musically eclectic but with a more political tone. But by ’87 I’d lost the faith. My love affair with all things Weller was over… for a few years anyway.