After his recent psychedelic noise explorations, Paul Weller has returned to a more acoustic and gentle style on True Meanings, his 14th solo studio album. While there is little here to raise the pulse, instead what he has produced is a record that is perhaps his most cohesive and consistent in recent years. With a host of guest stars dropping in (many whose influence is not immediately apparent), it is a piece of work to soothe souls and cool minds as we head out of that never-ending, hot summer.
By the time opener, ‘The Soul Searchers’, has snaked to its climax, ebbing, swirling and subsiding like a river current on a warm spring day, it is apparent that Weller has moved away from the sound of his recent work and into a more mellow mood. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way” he sings in that distinctively strong and smokey voice, the track still dabbling in psychedelia but now more of a Nick Drake or Pentangle slant – the former a constant frame of reference throughout, in both songwriting and in his distinctive guitar style.
Passing the landmark of his 60th birthday this year, a new level of introspection has appeared. Whether it is him singing: “Glide through the portal of my youth, when the stillness of silence brought its undisputed truth” on ‘Glide’, or the talk of old kings’ kingdoms crumbling in ‘Old Castles’, there is an awareness of the passing of time and mortality creeping ever closer. Never more so than on the poignant ‘Bowie’ (“You were only mortal like me”). There is still plenty of life in the old dog left, however, as the saucy ‘Come Along’ proves with its lusty kiss-off of: “In the morning I’ll be gone, and you’ll go back to him.”
While Weller has always been fond of a guest star, he takes it up a notch with True Meanings by also sharing songwriting duties with the likes of Conor O’Brien (Villagers) and Erland Cooper (Erland and the Carnival) sharing credits here. While Noel Gallagher, Rod Argent and even Martin Carthy appear, it is the appearance of his recent touring partner Lucy Rose’s cut-crystal vocals on the sublime ‘Books’ that leaves the lasting impact, adding an exquisite touch to the spiritual questions asked within.
Now, aged 60, Paul Weller still escapes definition with each record definitively different to what has come before, always free of the burden of living up to expectations. Of course, the old mod-heads will still hanker after the big hits and famous riffs – but the beautiful, string-laden True Meanings offers something different, something more real and true. We wouldn’t have it any other way.