It had seemed as if the so-called Godfather of Britpop’s halo had slipped in recent times. After the triumphant comeback of Wild Wood and Stanley Road, Paul Weller had seemed to slip into a comfortable rut. Heavy Soul and Heliocentric were pleasant enough listens, but didn’t really get the blood pumping. Maybe Weller was content to rest on his laurels and watch the world go by as he enjoyed middle age. Illumination proves that verdict was pretty far off the mark.
Illumination is Weller’s finest album since Stanley Road. The old passion and soul are back, and it’s been achieved by just gently rejigging the old formula. Take the opening single, It’s Written In The Stars. With the simple addition of a wonderful brass section punctuating all the way through the song, it sounds like the freshest thing he’s done in years. Wedded to some of Weller’s most positive lyrics in a long while (“It’s written in the stars that we’re true/we’re destined in the sky to be glad”), this is made for lazing round while trying to catch the last rays of summer.
Elsewhere, there’s a return to the stomping rock of Stanley Road in A Bullet For Every One where Weller’s political conscience reasserts itself. This isn’t the earnest posturing of the Red Wedge days though, as Weller seems to be thinking more on a global scale these days. Some incendiary guitar work adds to the passion.
As with every Paul Weller album, there’s an impressive list of cameo appearances, but nobody overshadows the man himself. Inevitably, Ocean Colour Scene make an appearance on several tracks, but it’s One x One that will raise most interest. Featuring a certain Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer, One x One is a slow-burning track miles away from Oasis. Lasting over five minutes, this builds nicely as it progresses, and after a couple of listens is one of the highlights of the record.
Elsewhere, Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics acquits himself well with a duet on Call Me No 5, an old-fashioned blues track with the obligatory croaky voices. Also, Carleen Anderson and Jocelyn Brown add some class to Standing Out In The Universe, one of the most soulful tracks on the record.
Despite the guest list, however, this is Paul Weller’s show through and through. Although a couple of tracks stop this from reaching instant classic status (Spring (At Last) and Who Brings Joy are pretty inconsequential), this is a blistering return to form by one of British music’s true legends. It’s good to have him back.