CD Review of 22 Dreams by Paul Weller
Recommended if you like
The Jam, the Style Council, the Kinks
Label
Yep Roc
Paul Weller: 22 Dreams

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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A
fter some 30-odd years of fomenting musical revolutions, both within bands like the Jam and the Style Council as well as on his own, Paul Weller has returned with his ninth solo outing – an album that marks a bit of a departure from his previous works. “After As Is Now, I thought the time was right to make the sort of record I wanted to make,” remarked Weller in regards to 22 Dreams. That’s sort of a conundrum. Wasn’t he making the sort of records he wanted to make all along? Or did he honestly feel like he had to stick to one sort of sound to stay in touch with his audience?

Whatever the case, 22 Dreams is the result of Weller’s desire, weighing in at 21 tracks and clocking in at 68 minutes. Maybe Weller didn’t get the memo that what the kids these days really want is just a soundbite from an album – half a single, even. Something to throw onto the mp3 player and forget about until it comes up in a shuffle play session. The way Weller is playing it, you’d think it was 1976 all over again. Oh, yeah: This work is also a concept album about a lad’s spiritual journey from heartache and loneliness to … enlightenment and all that stuff. So yeah, the album’s a bit of a beast, and yeah, it definitely suffers for its ambition.

But you’ll probably swear you were listening to an outtake from Led Zeppelin’s fourth album as the opening track, “Light Night,” begins to play. Paul sounds like he’s deliberately copping from “The Battle of Evermore” here. Hey, weren’t bands like the Jam originally opposed to old “dinosaurs” of the time such as Zep? But no sooner does that little ditty end when the title track arrives and does its little Stax/Volt soul shuffle all over the place. Now we’re back into Paul Weller territory.

Injected with Hendrix-like trippy guitar parts, “All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)” sounds bombastic and epic, almost heavier than need be. It sounds like the thing’s about to tip over at times during the choruses. But then Weller puts on his best Otis Redding impersonation and doles out “Have You Made Up Your Mind.” It’s here that the listener may start experiencing some misgivings about this project and start seeing the holes through the fabric. Is Weller trying for too much here? Well, we’ve already established that it’s a concept album, so that alone may give you the answer.

Paul Weller

Not to say all this is a miss, as “Empty Ring” is lush, soulful, and reminds one of the sort of things that Saint Etienne hits upon from time to time. “Cold Moments” finally sheds the yesteryear sounds for something a bit more modern, while still deeply rooted in British soul, and comes off well. And “Push It Along” finds Weller rocking out admirably without going too far over the line. But alas, for all these good moments, there are the ones that just frankly fail outright.

“Echoes Round the Sun” is just an embarrassing experimental mess, a chaotic scramble of bad lyrics and messy music. “Song for Alice” is an instrumental mood piece that goes on for about a minute too long. And then there’s “God,” a spoken word piece that completely tips the scales over into pretentious fluff. So it goes with the lethal poison of the concept album. Honestly, it’s a bit surprising that anyone bothers to make them these days, but there you go.

Every artist who’s been around for a while must have one of these bad ideas rolling around in their heads after a while, though. They put in their time doing the same old, same old and then want to stretch out with a vanity project and bewilder everyone. Well, Paul Weller has certainly succeeded by doing that with 22 Dreams. He would have been far better off just taking the best songs out of this, discarding the rest, and releasing a solid album. But hey, the man has earned his right to do this sort of thing. It’s just not going to do down in the history books alongside In the City – at least not for the same reasons.

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