- Artist: Paul Weller
- Title: Wild Wood
- Released: 1993
- Format: CD/Digital Download
- Genre: Brit Rock, Psych Rock, Soul, Folk
- Beverage of Choice: Watermelon Cucumber Cooler
The most challenging aspect to writing this post was trying to pigeonhole Paul Weller‘s sophomore solo album to a specific genre; I gave up. Wild Wood sounds like it could have/should have been recorded in the 70’s and draws on so many, particularly British, influences that there is something for everyone in the sixteen tracks along the album’s course.
I can’t remember why I picked up this CD back when it was first released; at the time The Jam was popular I simply wasn’t interested; the burgeoning NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) had serious momentum with bands like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Saxon capturing my ears (and share of wallet) and I read Circus Magazine, not NME.
When Weller decided to break up The Jam at the height of their popularity and form The Style Council, I took a quick listen and decided the music was boring and aimed at old people. Ah, the vanity of youth. Whatever the truth, when I heard the opening song on Wild Wood in ’93 I was ready for it, having expanded my musical tastes somewhat to blues, folk, pop (gasp), classical and world artists; in any case this album blew me away with its nuanced arrangements, excellent engineering and sheer musicality.
The opener, “Sunflower“, provides the first clue that this music is ‘different’ to Weller’s previous artistic direction; electric guitar, flute, traditional rock beat and ‘live’ vocals ; layers of fill, yet spacey, melodic and engaging. It’s the little flourishes throughout the album that make this such a great experience for musos and casual listeners alike, a master-class in arrangement and depth. Little ‘pip,pip,pip’ Moog sounds, piano runs (sometimes thrown away at the end of song as if Weller has so many ideas he can simply pull a new one out whenever he likes), psychedelic phase effects, hand-claps – everything working in harmony and balance.
Weller’s vocals are weightier (older?) and intimate, hinting at a homemade setup, especially when it’s just him and guitar as on the folksy “Foot of the Mountain“. Lyrically the album deals with the experience of gaining experience; introspective and personal, exposing some of his anxieties (‘am I still relevant’), egoism (‘yes I am dammit’) and regrets (‘I miss you so’). Instrumentally, Weller is in full control of the production, a virtual one-man-band, playing acoustic and electric guitars, bass, Moog, Mellotron, piano, Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, tambourine, strings , blues harp and , most likely, kitchen sink. Whew!
He does have help on the album though with a fairly long list of superb musicians adding professional touches to the songs. Brendan Lynch assisted Weller as producer and also added his prowess with percussion and keyboard elements. “Can You Heal Us(Holy Man)” delivers genuine soul with said musicians creating a Crosby, Stills and Nash vibe; listen to the use of organ swelling under the vocal harmonies and Weller’s voice well-suited to the mid-range folk rock style.
The title track is a crowd-pleasing singalong ; laid back acoustic harmonics, ebb and flow of flute in the background and building to a wonderfully passionate and engaging chorus, Weller’s voice ragged and emotional at the edge. A sophisticated piece of songwriting, it all sounds so simple but listen closely to the stylistic elements and arrangement – absolutely top of the heap.
As I mentioned, Weller seems to have a cornucopia of tunes at his disposal and there are a handful of instrumental interludes for your listening pleasure; motifs, really, bridging songs together and showing off his creativity in a “this one’s on me” kind of statement. Sounding like outtakes from a jam (not Jam) session or rehearsal, nevertheless these elements are interesting and part of the unique fabric of Wild Wood that makes it a great album.
The next few songs draw on trad rock influences like Traffic, The Who, Neil Young, Rod Stewart and Sgt. Pepper -era Beatles (especially on “Has My Fire Really Gone Out?“). Weller’s genius is weaving all these well-known elements into a holistic set of ear-markers that are essentially his; a certain pace/cadence and ebb-and-flow of verse/chorus and instrumental break. His talent as a producer/arranger of a wide variety of musical styles allows him to focus all of it to a sound that is immediately identifiable as ‘Paul Weller’. He has pulled off this magic trick throughout his solo career and I’ve collected all his subsequent releases, enjoying them all but coming back to Wild Wood time and time again to be carried away on the back of the beauty, technical excellence and emotional resonance to be found on this offering.
Weller deserves every allocate, award and dollar he’s received over the course of his lengthy career and, if you give this a listen, I suggest your first spin be on a good stereo system to get the wider effect of the music and then followed up by a headphone session, listening to the arrangements and nuanced layers of craftsmanship on display. Don’t delay, you’ll want to have as many years as possible with this one, I promise!