published: 17 /
In our ''Re : view' section, in which our writers look back at albums from the past, Malcolm Carter examines Paul Weller's classic solo album 'Stanley Road', which recently had its tenth anniversary
It’s always difficult when a local boy makes good. When someone you used to see playing the local working mens' club is suddenly all over the music weeklies and being hailed as the latest music wonder kid it takes some getting used to. Growing up in Woking myself it’s been difficult at times to grasp just how well known Paul Weller is now. Not only does his music turn up on home-grown soaps like 'Eastenders' it can also be heard in teenage American series. Weller is, for the most part, still highly regarded in the music press and few are the articles on mod/soul/punk where he isn’t asked his opinion like he is some kind of authority on the subject. The Small Faces, The Who, obscure soul acts, ask Weller, he’ll have something worth saying seems to be the consensus.
I spent most of 1977 in Denmark and it was something of a surprise when picking up the latest but week old copy of 'Melody Maker' I saw Weller’s familiar face peering out from the pages. Even more of a surprise was to read that his band's debut single 'In The City' had made the U.K. charts. Sadly the only way then to listen to the Radio One chart was to drive down to a beach where reception was fine on the car radio. Sitting there and hearing that rush of Who inspired guitar before hearing the passion and venom in Weller’s vocals for the first time is something that has stayed with me throughout the years.
Hanging about with or even confessing to knowing someone who is three or four years younger than yourself is simply not cool from the time you start your teens until the time you finish them but there were few teenagers in Woking who had not heard of Weller or knew who he was even in a school as large as (or so it seemed at the time) Sheerwater County Secondary. So it was a shock that this kid whose mother quizzed us about scooters in the local newsagent's was suddenly a mod and had actually made a record. And one that almost blew everything else out of the water that spring to boot. So, it was into Copenhagen I went , feeling not just a little patriotic to hand over my kroners for a 7” picture sleeve copy of 'In The City', but also hoping that there was a lot more of the same to come.
Unfortunately, if I had listened to the following three singles and first two albums before I had bought them I would have to admit that I wouldn’t have parted with my cash. There were good songs that still stand up; ‘Away From The Numbers’ is a case in point but I was beginning to think that the Woking wonder was going to have to get a proper job like the rest of us anyway. To be honest if it wasn’t for the geographical connection I wouldn’t have bothered to listen to his next album.
What a mistake that would have been for as we all know now, The Jam then went on to produce not just a run of classic singles from 'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight' right through to 'Beat Surrender' but their third album 'All Mod Cons' was the beginning of a clutch of excellent albums too. And by not putting 'Strange Town', 'When You’re Young', 'Going Underground 'and the rest on albums Weller truly seemed to a pop star who actually cared about his record buying public. There were no rip offs. The albums and singles were always packaged with care and thought. Who else would give us 7” double packs like 'Going Underground' and 'Beat Surrender' ? Then all of a sudden it was over. Weller split The Jam. In hindsight of course he did the right thing although at the time it seemed like the craziest thing he could have done. The Jam never got to be embarassing, never got diminishing record sales. He quit while on top; a brave, not a stupid move.
Weller’s next band The Style Council again made some great singles and arguably at least one classic album in 'Our Favourite Shop' but it seemed Weller was never again going to reach the creative heights of The Jam. Had it not been for the faithful following The Jam had so rightly built up would The Style Council have been so successful in the beginning? I doubt it. But still we stayed with him. Even those of us who really couldn’t take all the ‘Modfather’ hype seriously.
The first signs that Weller hadn’t totally lost it were in the ‘Into Tomorrow’ single, a slow burner for sure but the signs were there and his first self-titled solo album which showed a more mature but no less passionate Weller. Looking back on this first solo album now it’s obvious that the seeds of Weller’s finest solo album 'Stanley Road' were scattered throughout those songs. In hindsight it’s no surprise that the best of those songs were also inspired by Weller’s childhood spent in Woking. 'Uh-Huh-Oh Yeh!' and 'Amongst Butterflies' obviously find Weller searching for answers back in the place he grew up. When the pastoral ‘Wildwood’ was released the following year not only had Weller found another new direction, it actually sounded like a natural progression from his first solo album. It was obvious that his solo debut was no fluke. Weller had found his muse again and had started writing good old-fashioned tunes once more. After all, have you ever sung along to anything from The Style Council's ‘Cost Of Loving’ or ‘Confessions Of A Pop Group’?
It’s now a staggering 10 years since Weller’s third solo album, ‘Stanley Road’ which has now been given the anniversary treatment and been expanded over two CDs and a DVD. Of all Weller’s solo albums this is the one that deserves that special attention being as it is, even in Weller’s mind, the best album he has made (apart of course from the one he is working on as usual).
Returning to Woking for inspiration and revisiting his old childhood haunts in the local woods like the Indian cemetery and the canal running through Woking spurred Weller on to make the highlight of his solo career.
Given an unfairly harsh review in NME (a rating of 6/10) Weller proved them all wrong when the album was warmly received by those that matter; the record buying public who hoisted the album up the charts. Finally it didn’t matter what haircut Weller was wearing that week nor what he was dressed in. He was writing bloody good songs again and where ‘Paul Weller’ and ‘Wildwood’ had more than their fair share of excellent songs, ‘Stanley Road’ had 12 of them. Not only was the Weller of old back again on ‘The Changing Man’ with all that energy and passion recalling his Jam days, his lyrics were once again outstanding. Letting us all in on how it felt at times to be Weller the rock star that song and ‘Porcelain Gods’ rank among the best Weller has ever written, the former showing just how far his writing had matured. More subdued maybe but all the better and more effecting for that.
The one cover song on the album, Dr. John’s ‘Walk On Gilded Splinters’. was also unfairly slated in that NME review. Weller rightly took a different approach to the song and to these ears it’s probably Weller’s best cover version and not "wimpy" like the NME reckoned. So the voodoo and Cajun blues elements were played down from the original, but maybe Ted Kessler who wrote the review thought Woking on a Friday night was like New Orleans. What would be the point of Weller trying to just make a straight forward cover of the song ? His version sounds like a Weller original and is a vital part of the album as a whole. It doesn’t sound out of place and that’s just how it should be.
In a way Weller came of age with ‘Stanley Road’. The ballads/ love songs on the album show a maturity Weller had only touched on before. ‘Time Passes’ a heartbreaking song of lost love ranks among Weller’s best, his vocals finally revealing the more soulful sound he’d been surely searching for since his Jam days (probably due more to an intake of nicotine and too many late nights than any training but still resulting in the desired effect) and his guitar playing once more confirming Weller to be one of the best of his generation. Up there with ‘Time Passes’ is the closing track, ‘Wings Of Speed’. Again turning in one of the best vocals of his career and with Carleen Anderson’s vocals adding a gospel feel, Weller ends the album with a song as strong as the first one.
‘Stanley Road’ was a creative peak for Weller. Forget the extras on the new CD package. The DVD is, of course, worth seeing for any fan of the man’s work but the original 12 tracks really don’t need any extras added to them. The album is a joy to listen to from start to finish and still stands up 10 years down the line. Dust it off and give it a listen ! Only a fool would write Weller off just yet ! He may not again turn out an album where all 12 songs stand up a decade later but as long as he can continue to write songs of the calibre of say ‘Peacock Suit’ Weller proves that out of all those that first made their mark in 1977 he’s more or less alone in still delivering the goods and holding onto his integrity and beliefs.
Have a Listen:-
138 Posted By: Lauren Smith, Surrey on 18 Sep 2008
Brilliant Article - made very interesting reading and could agree more with your comments