Monday, May 07, 2007

In The Dock: Paul Weller

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Paul Weller

The case for the prosecution (Del)

Angry, politically engaged and ambitiously intelligent. Challenging the future; popular, relevant and radical.

Dull, lifeless and uninspiring. Obsessed with the past, and hence unoriginal and conservative.

Paul Weller is both. And the question that we need to ask isn't so much "how?" as "when?" From 1977 to 1981, The Jam released a parade of sharp singles that summed up the mood of the nation as much as anything by the Sex Pistols or The Clash. But whereas Lydon and Strummer took turns away from the limelight, into relative obscurity, it was Weller that went on to directly inspire the next generation of musicians. And this, my friends, is where the trouble starts.

Mod. Mod mod mod. "All mod is a con" wrote a Vox reviewer many moons ago. Oh yes. Mod. Or, to be more accurate, the Mod Revival of the late 70s. Uh-oh. Yes. Revival. Revival is never a good word. Revival almost always means recreating something exciting and spontaneous in a contrived manner than isn't nearly as exciting. It's conservative by definition, wanting to keep things as they once were. It's cannibalistic, the same, always the same. Authenticity and tradition are praised, change and originality are frowned upon. Initially, The Jam cleverly exploited Mod as a way in, something to pin their message to. A means to an end. And as such they were devastatingly effective.

But the trouble is, once the message fades, all that is left is the style over the content. The law of diminishing returns kicks in as the same old ground is trodden. The revival turns to nostalgia, and the anger dissipates to a longing for a golden age, which never really existed (not even between 1960 and 1969. Honestly.). And the next generation hold it up as gospel. And so here we are. Mod as a con. A fake world constructed from 'Quadrophenia' quotes and Who record sleeves. It didn't exist, and it's bullshit, and Paul Weller has not only lived off it for the past two decades, but been deified as its highest being: The Modfather.

Enough is enough.

Let us start with the sins. We can perhaps forgive the many blatant rip-offs that litter The Jam's repertoire ('Start' steals from The Beatles' 'Taxman', 'A Town Called Malice' bears a striking resemblance to The Supremes' 'You Can't Hurry Love'). But this is hardly what you'd expect of the musical genius that some would lead us to believe he is.

It's easy to mock The Style Council. And fun, too. But credit where it's due, Weller disbanded a hugely popular group to take a risk. Sadly the risk failed, as The Style Council were just a soul revival group without a point. They added nothing. Follow with embarrassing acid house covers and fade to obscurity.

Until of course, the next Mod Revival kicks in (although most people just call it Britpop). Ironically, it's my fave band Blur that opened the door, rocking the Mod look and iconography for Modern Life Is Rubbish. But, like The Jam beforehand, behind the retro stylings was The Message. Sadly, Weller had long since voted Tory and left the politics behind. So it was the content-lite Oasis who really brought him back to the party.

And so we had 'The Changingman'. Which is actually an absolutely ace tune. The riff is mesmerising and utterly original. At least it was when the Electric Light Orchestra first played it on '10538 Overture'. In 1973. But the kids don't know that, do they? Another artful con.

Weller was the godhead of possibly the dullest musical genre in history: Dadrock. All style circa 1967, no originality whatsoever. So out went the social commentary, and in came the nostalgia kick. Populism without the awkward politics. Kula Shaker. Smaller. Shack. Ocean. Colour. Scene. Please kill me now.

Now, whilst you can argue that while many influential artists simply cannot be blamed for the crimes committed in their name, long after their creative peak, Weller was practically orchestrating the whole scene. Ocean Colour Scene were his backing band. Oasis became duller with every second they spent in his company. Many other awful bands gained column inches simply through his endorsement. The angry outsider was now the cosy uncle delighted to see the kids bringing his dream of a 60s wonderland to life in authentic faded sepia. Every bit of excitement sacrificed for authenticity and insipid monochrome.

Dull, lifeless and uninspiring. Obsessed with the past, and hence unoriginal and conservative.

Guilty guilty guilty guilty.

The case for the defence (Pete)

Defending Paul Weller seems a strange thing to do. Only in that he hasn't, in my mind, been the culprit behind any major musical crimes. Some might say he's been responsible for the odd "boring" album (oh no); Heavy Soul wasn't a corker by any standards. And yes, providing encouragement to Ocean Colour Scene is a debatable highlight, but the topics of Britpop and Birmingham’s musical legacy have already been covered in previous cases so I'll ignore that argument.

Seriously though, the man is a legend. You might not like him, or his music, but he does deserve just a little bit of begrudging admiration. He's the frickin' Modfather after all!

I'll start with The Jam. As part of this trio, he came up with some of the finest songs around, that still manage to sound relatively timeless, ‘Going Underground’, ‘Eton Rifles’, ‘Start’ or the classic Motown style of ‘A Town Called Malice’ anyone? For the latter alone, I can’t see why the man should be In The Dock.

Nevertheless, unlike a lot of bands who keep stumbling along without a change in musical direction for too long, Weller was bright enough to realise that The Jam had run its natural course and moved on. Admittedly, this was to The Style Council, but even they are only possible ironic perpetrators of fashion crimes at most (white jeans!). So perhaps, the songs now at times seem a little self-indulgent with a little too much soul-pop noodling going on for my liking, but it was the 80s, what do you expect? In any case, most bands would love give their eye teeth to come up with a song as good as 'Shout To The Top'.

Thankfully, he got the white jeans period out of his system, had a break and moved onto his well-documented solo material in time to accompany the emergence of Britpop with his so-called “DadRock” phase. I’ve always thought that a pretty unjust label. He’s been inventive enough so far in his life; so what if he found a niche (at the age of 40) and remained in it? In any case, 2002’s ‘It's Written In The Stars’ showed a willingness not to rely solely on his trusty Rickenbacker to bang out a good song.

Fair play to him also for not selling out like so many other artists by repeatedly refusing to take part in a reunion of The Jam, no matter how financially rewarding it might be.

One final thing; apparently, at a recent gig at the Royal Albert Hall Weller he saw a picture of Sting's performance at the same venue from 2000 and decided to "deliver his own style of music criticism". According to the NME, Weller "marched straight up to it [the photo], coughed-up as much phlegm as he could muster and planted it plum in the middle of The Police frontman's head... as he walked away, remarking, 'fucking twat'". So if you’re still ambivalent about Weller, but can’t stand Sting, then follow the old adage of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and vote for the defence.

* * * * *

Thanks to Del and Pete for their contributions. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

23 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Damo, still struggling against the thing they call 'logging in'.

Guilty. Guilty guilty guilty guilty. The Jam? Great. The Style Council? Had their moments and it was brave to do something so different.

But now he is not The Jam or The Style Council, he is Paul Weller and I despise what he's become now. "The Changingman" at least wasn't as bad as "Woodcutter's Son", but both were him saying "look at me, I am the arbiter of what is quality and what isn't" and it's an arrogance that needs backing up with music...

...so anyhow, he fell in with Oasis. And all the cliches about 'real rock'. Being old doesn't mean you have to start moaning that everyone else needs to match up to your level of authenticity and "realness", but Weller has done that and done so with gusto. Boredom is his watchword in attitude and music now, and when you've shown yourself capable of writing the songs he once did then there really is no excuse.

I was going to mention the Sting thing even if the defence didn't. Much as I share his views on the man (or at least, the ones he's claiming to have in his latest "look at my cred" outburst), it was just the actions of a petulant man, raging against nothing of any significance. In fact the actions are those of a child, not a man. And come to that, a child who needs a slap.

Talking of Oasis - pre-meeting Weller, one classic album. Post-meeting Weller, sludge-rock monotony. Since 1995. (Come on, don't tell me "Wonderwall" is anything more than a dirge)

I quite honestly could go on forever and ever and ever. More guilty than guilt itself.

6:34 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

Not being British I only have audible experience with the man in the form of "Town Called Malice" (....not actually that great), "My Ever Changing Moods" (which alone should get the Style Council a pass) and his vocals on Death in Vegas' cover of "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" (ace).

Even I've heard Ocean Colour Scene, though. Guilty.

6:58 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

Guilty. I like the Jam as much as the next man, but almost everything else about Weller annoys me: the haircut that time forgot, his obsession with his 'look' and his obsession with 'respect'. He thinks he is something he is not. What the fuck is a "modfather" when it's at home? Why do people call him that? Read any interview of his and it's a string of self-important and self-serving vitriol that manages to muster righteous indignation at any band that isn't playing according to the Weller rule book - a rule book that seems to mostly consist of worshipping at his feet. Much though I'd love to salute his flobbing on sting the other day, actually I only end up feeling sorry for sting... which is not something I feel comfortable with. Sting might be a bit of a twat, but what kind of prick thinks that means it's alright to spit on him?

Weller is a tosser and is very, very guilty.

BURN HIM.

ST

6:59 pm  
Blogger Pete Ashton said...

Guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty

[deep breath]

guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty.

7:18 pm  
Blogger James said...

If Dylan's going down, Weller is sure as hell going down faster and further. As much as the Dylan vote still smarts (and it does - because you were all wrong), I accept it. But Dylan's descent into hell is a mere paddle compared to the roasting that Weller deserves. And this is despite accepting that he has (perhaps accidentally) penned a few good song - even in the ropey Style Council period.

The prosecution has summed up all of his crimes perfectly in my mind, and I'm sorry, but the defence's attempt to excuse him on the basis that he is the 'modfather' is like the council at the Kray trial calling out, 'but it's Ronnie and Reggie!!! They still love their mum!'

And as for coughing a phlegm at Sting. For all the horrors that Sting has inflicted in the past 25 years, I would sooner defend him than Weller.

Sorry, I am losing my grip. Guilty. To the very lowest chamber of Hell.

I hope this is unanimous.

7:45 pm  
Blogger Stevious said...

I think what you're all trying to say is that the man is a c*nt.

Only a fool would disagree.

Send him to the special part of hell where you have to listen to that Ocean Colour Scene riff from TFI Friday for eternity. But first make him meet Sting and see if he can be as much of a dick to his face.

8:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm almost starting to feel sorry for him now (this being Damo again). I spat out my tea reading the first line of Stevious's post. Which probably means I should grow up.

Actually, make that 'definitely'.

9:22 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Starting to feel a bit sorry for Pete here, but I'm afraid I have no option but to side with the prosecution.

For too long Weller has been dining out on the handful of decent Jam songs he wrote nearly 30 years ago. Del's argument nails him perfectly.

To quote George in 'Blackadder IV', Weller's as guilty as a puppy sitting next to a pile of poo. And if the pile of poo represents his recorded output, then it's rather a large pile of poo.

11:34 pm  
Anonymous Nick The Snick said...

Using the 'Sting spit' story as part of his defence was a bold move by Pete.

Both Weller and Sting are artists who did some great work in their late 70s/early 80s bands and then went on to do a couple of decades worth of boring and embarrassing solo work.

The parallels are pretty obvious, and I imagine dear Paul can see them too. He saw not just a photo of Sting but a reflection of his own ridiculous failings and spat out of fear and frustration and ultimately self-hatred.

He's guilty as hell, and that's without even considering the OCS connection, the authentic cockney accent (he's from Surrey for God's sake) and the bloody wah wah woo (wild wild wood).

12:36 pm  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

Yeah. All of that stuff above.

I *hate* Paul Weller. If he were playing a gig in my back garden, I'd have the council round.

In fact, I can't think of one mitigating thing I could say about him. His music is dreadful, but it's this self-appointed status as the daddy of cool that I find particularly offensive.

Someone I know used "You Do Something To Me" as their wedding dance, once. They're no longer my friends.

2:46 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

"I *hate* Paul Weller. If he were playing a gig in my back garden, I'd have the council round."

There's a Council related joke there that I'm manfully going to resist.

ST

7:57 pm  
Blogger Simon said...

This is beginning to look like a landslide, isn't it? On the one hand, the superb body of Jam work (the run of original singles, ie not David Watts, from A Bomb In Wardour Street to Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero? is pretty much unmatched by anyone for consistent highest quality) and the odd song afterwards - come on, Wild Wood's good for what it is. On the other, the serious, "I'm grown up now and don't want to play guitars with pop art designs, I want to be continental and make smooth soul" tone, the demand to be taken As An Artist, Ocean Colour Scene, The Modfather (cf Paul 'The Guvnor' Ince), the NME-associated bandwagoneering association with this week's passing boys with guitars, the giveaway piousness at the press... the majority verdict of the last 25 years says guilty.

The fact Buckler and Foxton have had to rename their reunion 'From The Jam' is quite funny, though.

10:06 pm  
Blogger Planet Me said...

the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

GUILTY. GUILTY. BURN HIM AT THE STAKE.

10:51 am  
Blogger K.W.Wan said...

Bloody hell! Mob mentality at it's worst.

I think the problem with Weller now is that he's refused to grow old gracefully. If he wasn't still swaggering round like some drunken pensioner in a leather jacket, I'm sure the result would be very different. Spitting in Stings face would have been cool, if it were someone like Matt Willis, but for someone like Weller... he should know better.

Though not a big fan, I do like some Jam songs: That's Entertainment, Eton Rifles... I even like some songs off Stanley Road (the argument of it being derivative doesn't hold water for me. Who says only songs that doesn't sound like anything else is good? It's not bloody jazz!)

But right here, right now, I think he's no longer relevant. And his legacy is not enough save him either.

A reluctant guilty.

7:50 pm  
Anonymous alison said...

If I'm not too late I'll squeeze in a guilty vote. For all the reasons stated in the excellent argument from the prosecution and those posted above, especially those implicating Weller in the popularity of Ocean Colour Scene.

8:10 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This one's going to be close...

10:22 pm  
Blogger Happybutterfly said...

I know I'm late but...Paul Weller is alright really. It's just a technicality that he appears to be a proper c.u.n.

10:30 pm  
Blogger Gianmaria said...

I LOVE Sting, everything about Sting and The Police, that's people who brought in something really new and "progressive" (yes, also in musical terms), no revival stuff, blend of styles and great ability to build up new striking melodies (that's what music's all about).
Weller tried doing something similar when he created The Style Council, where he basically concentrated on melodies rather than on fashionable sounds or vogues: I don't think that was just "soul revival", The Style Council went beyond that scheme, I've heard so many different styles in "the Council" and that was right to me.
BTW, that was Weller's most politically committed period... "progressively" speaking...
Then he got back to his old attitudes: mod revival, Tory voting (though he blamed Phil Collins for the same reason, and Phil's lately made it clear he's no Tory), easy money, stupid rock'n'roll stereotypes, "rebel and damned" hypocrisy, acting like a God (aka "The Modfather") when all he's done since the mid eighties is... what is it???
So who's going to clap his/her hands to a guy who's spitting on Sting's face? Just the same fashion victims who pretend to look tough by hating everything coming out of the '80s and on...
This is reverting, it is not "progressive", and I HATE it.

2:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guilty. Simply the guy thinks he's "all that". He's an embarrasment.

12:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew his dad John his wife Ann and the sister Nicky.
John was a womanising prick, Ann simple person went along with everything Nicky used to take the piss out of Paul who couldnt tell the time at 15 Paul is a stupid egotistical self important prick

1:16 pm  
Blogger Kez Waters said...

never read such a massive load of bollocks. I swear I'm actually dumber for reading that. That's 4 minutes I'll never get back. How about you have a musical career spanning over 30 years then maybe you'll have the authority to start criticizing him? Bellend

5:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Kez Waters Your The Weller Fan

The Fact He's Had A Musical Career For Over 30 Years On A Trip Down Nostalgia, Road. I Loved The Jam As Kid But Weller Has Turned Into A Bitter Old Man Making Boring Egotistical shite His Last Album I Played Once Maybe Twice Its That Crap.

Guilty

9:53 am  
Anonymous JOhn said...

The man's a genius. Even the maligned "Heavy Soul" is a good album. The Cost of Loving is the only poor album in a 37 year career.

Not Guilty!

7:04 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home