PAUL WELLER
True Meanings [Parlophone]

He’s always been a hard worker, but still: these feel like prolific times for Weller. Working in continuous collaboration seems to fire him up, as this is his third album in 20 months. It’s a song from the first of those, ‘The Ballad Of Jimmy McCabe’ from his Jawbone soundtrack, which revealed a slight return to Weller’s folk balladeer side, after years of experimenting with the cutting up of rock this way and that. 

It was composing, a few years back, ‘Gravity’ – the lush, orchestrated, melancholic centre of True Meanings – that gave Weller the determination to construct an album in a far more bucolic style. ‘Gravity’ truly is a stunning, delicate 150 seconds of music, with an immaculate and precise string arrangement courtesy of decade-long sideman Andy Crofts. This sideman/woman influence is repeatedly important to this, his 14th solo album, as fairly demonstrated on bubbling opener ‘The Soul Searchers’: a modern string arrangement by the avant-garde musician Hannah Peel, multiple contributions from Villagers’ Conor O’ Brien, and an old-school Hammond solo by Rod Argent.

The album settles in well. Jazzer ‘Mayfly’ has a deft bluesy guitar solo from the former Jam guitarist Steve Brookes to enliven proceedings, whilst ‘Old Castles’ has a soul-stirring strings-assisted group arrangement that recalls his Heliocentric days back in the year 2000. ‘What Would He Say?’ is a lounge-shuffler that seems directed at the importance of keeping positive when bitterness is the easier option. It’s also the sole “The Moons track” on the album, as it unites bassist Crofts with Ben Gordelier on drums and Tom Heel on his Rhodes piano. Though the flugel horn solo means you aren’t mistaken who’s in charge!

‘Aspects’ is a serious piece of rumination, a Buddhist-like realisation of beauty/God coming from within. It’s a nod to Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens, minor-chord patterns facing off with choral harmonies and swooping string lines. It also is, to put it bluntly, gorgeous, and worth the entry price alone. As the second half of the album begins there’s a couple of Erland Cooper [of prog-folkies Erland and the Carnival] collaborations that don’t quite hit the mark, and the album briefly drifts. Nothing to worry about though: here’s folk royalty Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy to breathe life into the ornate melody of ‘Come Along’, with Peel producing a fine Robert Kirby-style orchestral adjunction to some already heavily emotive moments in sound.

The last section of the album is a full of discovery, too. ‘Books’ adds sitar, Tampoura and Noel Gallagher on, er, pump organ to send us eastwards on a kaleidoscopic journey, whilst ‘Movin On’ has a lovely soaring vocal performance from the main man, who clearly still cares about what he has to deliver. ‘May Love Travel With You’ brings things around again: voice, guitar, and some widescreen Disney orchestration. Weller soundtracking your kids bedtime? Why not, he knows quite a bit about parenting. Closer ‘White Horses’ brings back Cooper, Argent and Gallagher for a finale that seals the deal: a fable about generosity directed at a younger audience, it’s a touching finish to an album that surprises throughout.

It was interesting to hear Weller dismiss last year’s well-received A Kind Revolution as merely “alright” in a recent issue of Mojo. Perhaps he knew how good the follow-up was going to be, and felt a moment of guilt. Maybe he was right though: whilst everyone has a different take on what the best Weller album/period is, True Meanings makes a robust case for being his best since his last 22 Dreams/Wake Up The Nation-era highpoint. Certainly there’s little doubt it will score high in many end of year polls.

Phil Istine

Live photo of Weller/Crofts by David Jackson