Today’s the day! Paul Weller’s new album True Meanings is out now, with the Modfather releasing his fourteenth solo effort in the first year of his sixth decade. After the pomp and intricate effects of his experimental last three albums and the arena tours to match, here Weller takes it back to basics on his first wholly acoustic studio album, which will feature a number of other collaborators and instruments, including an orchestra on some tracks.
While we’re all digesting the new record, and in the absence of any songs from the album being played at Weller’s fully-electric August dates in York and Birmingham, here are my thoughts on the songs and snippets that were released in the run-up…
Aspects: A very good tune indeed. The first single to be released officially, it’s a nice introduction to the orchestral idea, which sits very well with Weller’s voice at the moment. There’s nothing really groundbreaking in the melody or lyrics for me, although there are some nice lines, but it’s a solid start and is a very promising taster for the rest of the album. 7/10
Movin On: One of Weller’s all-time best songs, up there with Hung Up, The Weaver and I Should Have Been There to Inspire You. A co-production with White Label, who have a hit-and-miss history of remixing Weller’s songs, this is extremely well balanced. Sublime vocals, with a delivery as good as anything from the ‘renaissance’ period, good acoustic guitar and a great use of the orchestra including double bass. I hope the rest of the album is as good as this, one of Weller’s career highlights to date. 9/10
The Soul Searchers: The third and final single is the rawest, rootsiest number released in full so far (I have high hopes for White Horses in this department, too). The album’s opening track lays down a marker of what Weller wants us to expect. After the long, folky guitar introduction, we get some great, peppy vocals in the opening verses more like the Weller we’ve got to know over the last six years than the folk troubadour impression you imagine. The themes are interesting and there’s a delicious, funky melody that develops as much thanks to the expressive vocal line as the ever-present acoustic guitar or faint, guiding drum line and minimalist effects.
Conor O’Brien wrote the words above Weller’s tune and sings the last verse, his voice sounding good on its own before intertwining agreeably with Weller’s (you do wonder how it would be with just Weller singing) before you hear some clear Andy Crofts backing vocals come in as the music peters out and we’re left with some haunting remaining voices. The centrepieces of the song are two magnificent keys solos, the first perfectly fitting with the guitar line, winding in and out of each other, the second on Hammond by The Zombies’ Rod Argent, a decent piece of work which combines with the piano, that Weller and critics are right to rave about. 8/10
Gravity: To be honest, sorry, but I’ve always found this song pretty boring. There is little substance or structural progression, or anything to get excited about really – although the lyrics are ok. Only ok, mind, when compared to what else we’ve seen from this record so far. If the rest of True Meanings is as good as it should be based on Aspects and Movin On, I think Gravity risks being shown up. I reckon people just liked it because it wasn’t released for ages, and it was something to hope would be recorded and enjoy as a nugget for those who saw it live. It could well be a better studio tune than it is live when you look at the promising structure and potential for additions – I live in hope. 4/10
What Would He Say?: This is a superb live song and one of the highlights of the gigs in which it forms part of the acoustic encore. It’s one of Weller’s best acoustic tracks, up there with the Fly on the Wall version of Everything Has a Price to Pay, Dusk ‘Til Dawn and The Ballad of Jimmy McCabe. His vocals have sounded fresh when he’s played it live and the lyrics are meaningful. I can’t wait to hear the polished studio version, and I hope his sincere, authentic vocals survive the process that, sadly, The Attic didn’t. 9/10
Glide: I haven’t really heard this enough to review properly, but from the YouTube live video from the Union Chapel and the Soho Radio session where it was performed by Weller and Steve Pilgrim and cut live to vinyl, it’s promising – there’s a nice, chilled melody and the potential to give Weller’s matured vocals a good exhibition. The lyrics are a little Gravity-esque in approach but still thought provoking and vivid in places. If it’s done right on record this could be another great example of the acoustic/orchestral format working wonders for Weller. 7/10
White Horses: A recent clip, released through Weller’s Instagram. I think this’ll be the acid test of the album, seeing as it’s got lyrics by Erland Cooper to Weller’s melody and also features more from perhaps the album’s most interesting collaborator Argent. From the verse posted, it has the potential to be a dipping, soaring classic like Going My Way or The Impossible Idea. There is a nice vocal harmony, raw acoustic guitar and a whiff of violins which you feel will probably advance the drama of the full-length version of the song. More abstract, arty vocals like one of his most popular recent tunes She Moves with the Fayre. N/A
Wishing Well: Teased not too long ago, also through Weller’s Instagram, the strong, punchy verse features some interesting lyrics and a quirky, aged effect on the vocals and guitar. N/A
What about the rest?: I’m slightly concerned that Weller hasn’t written the words to a few of the songs. It will be exciting to hear Hannah Peel’s orchestration, added after the short three-week recording period, based on the success of Movin’ On and the tantalising White Horses clip.
There are some legendary, trusted collaborators. Famed double-bassist Danny Thompson, for example, would grace any album and was superb on Weller drummer Pilgrim’s latest solo effort and at a pair of subsequent live dates. On that subject, I’m looking forward to hearing more of the unsung heroes of Weller’s touring band, expected to feature, including Ben Gordelier, Pilgrim and Tom van Heel – a group more important than any big-name collaborator.
Organ master Rod Argent and Noel Gallagher hardly need introductions (although the Oasis man’s contribution is expected to be hard to discern), and Martin Carthy (who appears on Come Along with Thompson) is a well-known name in folk circles, his daughter Eliza having covered Wild Wood on one of her albums and the pair working with Weller to record a much-bootlegged cover of folk standard John Barleycorn. Little Barrie is a safe pair of hands on guitar, Weller has been a vocal supporter of O’Brien’s band Villagers, Cooper is a trusted previous collaborator with Weller (he has to be – he wrote three sets of lyrics on True Meanings!) and Lucy Rose has quite some voice – a previous support act and also chosen to open his two shows next month at the Royal Festival Hall (with Peel-directed orchestra behind Weller). There’s not expected to be extensive worldwide touring of the album, except for three European acoustic dates the week prior to the Festival Hall shows, including Rotterdam.
Bowie, White Horses and Old Castles have been particularly praised so far, and the critics who have received advance copies say the singles are a pretty good indication of what the rest of the album is like.
The buzzwords from Weller’s PR about this album (think 2010’s “clarion call to the nation”) are that it boasts “grandiose-yet-delicate, lush orchestration” with his “better-than-ever voice”. But it’s a personal-sounding album with a large number of pretty significant collaborators. Sounds interesting. Let’s wait and see…
True Meanings is out now on CD, Deluxe CD, vinyl, MP3 and on streaming services. Buy online here.
Chris Evans broadcast his BBC 2 Breakfast show from Weller’s Black Barn studios this morning, chatting to the man himself and hearing some live acoustic tracks including new material and older hits, with Weller’s live band. Catch up here.
- The Soul Searchers
- Old Castles
- What Would He Say?
- Wishing Well
- Come Along
- Movin On
- May Love Travel With You
- White Horses