A Kind Revolution simply sounds a bit too much like Weller on auto-pilot.
When Paul Weller declared himself to be the “changingman” in the 1995 hit, he was anything but. After juggling punk, psychedelia and R&B in The Jam and sophisticated pop and deep soul with The Style Council, Weller’s solo career became a slow and steady slide into the realms of trad-rock and dreaded MOR tediousness. While he earned praise from the ‘60s-worshipping brit-pop contingency, Weller’s creative restlessness never fully left him. It wasn’t until 2008, after over a decade of reliably straightforward brit rock, that Weller regained his mojo with 22 Dreams, a freewheeling concoction of jazz, pastoral folk, psychedelia and space rock. Each album since has seen him push further into unknown territories with frequently thrilling results.
In that sense, A Kind Revolution feels more like a stop-gap than an advance, a chance for Weller to reconnect with his roots while incorporating some of his new found musical sensibilities. Gone are the fuzzed out psychedelia and krautrock-inspired rhythms of his past two albums, with Weller instead electing to give his usual northern soul a mix of dubby rhythms, yearning strings sections and twinkling piano glissandos. However, Weller’s subtle tweaks to his classic sound feel far too subdued, resulting in a mixed bag of promising moments yet stale songwriting.
The album messily stumbles out of the gate with openers “Woo Se Mama” and “Nova” sounding far too familiar – the vestiges of Weller’s trad rock past coming back to haunt him. While Weller’s delivery is confident as he revels in the former’s chorus of “Woo se mama, waiting on that call now/ Woo se mama, but you don’t get me”, there’s no fire in the belly. Weller’s vocals are reliably gruff, but they feel far too comfortable in such familiar settings.
The soulful strings of “Long Long Road” briefly uplift the spirit, but the album doesn’t get its bearing until the upbeat, funked-up strut of “She Moves with the Fayre.” With a sneaky bass line that slowly unwinds around a trumpet solo provided by none other than the legendary Soft Machine recluse Robert Wyatt, Weller begins to loosen up and let the music guide itself. “The Cranes are Back” builds on that momentum, presenting a serene mix of dreamy wah-wah guitars and cascading melodies, all carried along by a breeze of a rhythm section.
“One Tear” finds Weller in relatively new territory as a four-on-the-floor kick leads into echoing guitars and Bonobo-esque electronic flourishes. As Weller’s voice floats out into the abyss, decayed and strewn across a drifting soundscape of warped pianos, you get the sense that Weller works best when he is an arm’s length away from the proceedings – watching and occasionally chiming in with a scruffy bark rather than taking a commanding presence.
Closers “Satellite Kid” and “The Impossible Idea” place Weller at the crossroads of his sounds. While the former trundles along a lazy bass groove, a rehash of Stanely Road’s earthy rhythms to much diminished effect, the jazzy folk of the latter presents warm vocal harmonies and a refreshingly beautiful violin solo – a brief yet ultimately satisfying burst of new ideas.
For all of its interesting touches, A Kind Revolution simply sounds a bit too much like Weller on auto-pilot. At its worst, it gives the impression that Weller is quietly settling into his more advanced age – a mediocre mark on an otherwise captivating late career renaissance.