Paul Weller - Heliocentric

Paul Weller

Released 2000 on Island
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 24/05/2008ce

1. He's The Keeper
2. Frightened
3. Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea
4. A Whale's Tale
5. Back In The Fire
6. Dust And Rocks
7. There's No Drinking, After You're Dead
8. With Time & Temperance
9. Picking Up Sticks
10. Love-Less

I have to admit that during the time period of 1979-1981 I thought Paul Weller could do little wrong. I saw The Jam play live every chance I had. I remember one storming Jam performance in 1980 that I thought I was walking on air when I left the building. For some reason I really connected with Weller and a lot of his ideals. Weller was probably the first hero I had in rock music that was my own age, I also agreed heavily with his distaste for the rock culture and the drug scene. By 1979 I had done just about every drug in the universe and I was sick to death of hippies and drugs in a most intense way. I came to punk as an antidote to the bloated, drug soaked hippies such as Jerry Garcia & David Crosby (sure I liked The Dead and Byrds) but by the late 70's nearly every 60's relic offended my senses. It came to a disgusting head at a Dave Mason gig in 1978, he just sucked so bad and was so lifeless that I really should have begged for my money back. Everything in the late 70's was just soaked in cocaine and I hated it all.

With punk I thought I was getting what I had prayed for, but by 1979 even punk seemed to be following the same old drugged out Rolling Stone magazine wasteland. However The Jam seemed removed from most of what was going on, they came out of the UK punk scene but always seemed away in their own corner. Most of the 70's UK punk bands came on strong in the beginning but were beginning to fade by 1979-80. Not so with Weller and The Jam, if anything their material was getting stronger with every release. During the period of 1979-80 I reckon Weller was the best songwriter on the planet, and as a live act The Jam were without peers. The Jam issued a stunning set of 45's during this period that had the fury of '77 punk with the melody of the mid 60's. I never saw The Jam as a 60's revival band at all, their material sounded totally modern to me. Living in Bridgeport, Connecticut I was always a step behind what was happening in the then fertile UK music scene but it was through Weller interviews that I first heard of Wire, The Skids, Teardrop Explodes, Ruts, Specials and even Joy Division.

I also really admired Weller's absolute refusal to bow down to any vision that was not his own and even when he took unfair swipes at the USA I really couldn't bring myself to be too offended as most of his wrath was reserved for swill such as Aerosmith & Van Halen. When The Jam split in 1982 I really wasn't that upset and I could kinda understand Weller's reasons for packing it in. However after The Jam split something went terribly wrong with the music of Paul Weller. At the start I was game for the Style Council, I liked Mick Talbot from Dexy's & The Bureau. The debut Style Council 45 "Speak Like A Child" was a reasonable disc reminiscent of late peroid Jam records. I hung around for a few Style Council records but after plunking down good bread for their dreadful debut album I was ready for the air sick bag. Weller constantly raved about soul this and soul that but the Style Council's music was soul-less and at times came close to atrocities like Spandau Ballet. Hell, Secret Affair made better soul records than Weller at this point. By 1985 I couldn't bear to buy another Weller record and be so disappointed. In my head I had totally written Weller off and I never dreamed I'd Be buying another record by him ever. Just for kicks I put on The Style Council's "Cost Of Loving" LP in a record shop and I almost threw up.

Fast forward to 1990 or so, there were rumblings that Weller was ditching the whole Luther Vandross trip and was back in action with a guitar in hand. He was even claiming to be influenced by Free, Neil Young & even The Rolling Stones, I couldn't believe what I was reading. I started to buy Weller's new solo records and there were some real gems in there such as "Sunflower", "Hung Up" & "Wildwood" none of them were life changing but it was good to have the man back doing what he does best. But nothing could have prepared me for the magic contained in the grooves of "Heliocentric." I feel this album is Weller's masterpiece and without question his finest hour. I had read Weller was into Nick Drake's records and was employing Drake contributor Robert Kirby to supply strings for Weller's upcoming record which would end up being "Heliocentric." That sounded good to me but I had no idea it would be this good!

The Weller-Kirby connection has turned into a match made in heaven as he has brought Weller's music a quantum leap. "Heliocentric" actually begins in a laid back fashion with mid-pace numbers such as "He's The Keeper", "Frightened" & "Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea" (not the Tommy Roe & Manfred Mann number.) All of it is very nice but about 5 tracks in something begins to take shape that is nothing short of breathtaking. It begins with an acoustic number called "Back In The Fire" which is a moody, rural number that brings to mind Danny Kirwan's contributions to Fleetwood Mac's classic "Then Play On" album and also the post Peter Green 45 "Dragonfly." "Dust And Rocks" is in the same territory but even better, this song is one of Weller's finest ever numbers, it has a real eerie quality and just grows in intensity as it goes, absolutely stunning! It actaually does a fade out/fade in that is incredibly psychedelic and features Kirby's wonderful strings blended with Weller's searing guitar phrases. The beauty of this piece is just incredible and certainly rivals Drake's "Northern Sky."

It does a quick transition into a pounding beat stomper called "There's No Drinking, After You're Dead" which is loose and funky and cooks like "Whisky Train" by Procol Harum, Weller slashes at his axe like he did in 1980 with the seasick strings just adding to the overall effect. "With Time & Temperance" Paul returns to the majestic sound of " Dust & Rocks" and this song is every bit it's equal, again the strings create a fantastic mood and Weller's vocal is truly soulful, if anything his voice has gotten stronger as he has aged. As good as the album has been so far, "Picking Up Sticks" is the absolute climax, this number is just astounding, it features a hypnotic Steve Winwood sounding organ/electric piano pattern blended with Weller's gorgeous melody, not to mention the band kick into a groove that sounds like Blind Faith blasting through "Sea Of Joy" there is even a Ginger Baker style drum raveup during the song's conclusion. The whole thing ends with another heart-stopping Weller piano ballad called "Love-Less" that sounds straight off the grooves of Scott Walker's "Scott 4" with even a touch of Love's "Forever Changes." When this record ends my jaw is usually on the floor! I am not kidding in the slightest when I say the high points of this album are some of the greatest moments in rock/pop history, and this album can stand proudly alongside "Pet Sounds", "Forever Changes", "Big Star 3/Sister Lovers" and other great you care to mention. You may think I'm crazy but I mean every word of it. With "Heliocentric" Weller has created SOUL music of the highest order, this is an album for the ages!!!!

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