When Paul Weller released what’s generally thought to be his best album, Wild Wood, there was a track there called Has My Fire Really Gone Out?. Intended as a riposte to his critics who had long written him off as an irrelevancy, it was the highlight of a blistering return to form that saw Weller once again widely respected.
Now, over a decade after Wild Wood, Weller finds himself again the subject of carping from snide critics. Although albums such as Heavy Soul had their moments, there was something that suggested Weller was coasting somewhat. Last year’s covers album, Studio 150, was a well-meaning experiment that fell flat on its face and people began to wonder whether Weller’s fire really has gone out for good this time.
So As Is Now sees the man back with a point to prove – and long term fans of Weller will know this is when he’s at his best. It’s an album that sees him refocused, reinvigorated and projecting a real sense of purpose.
As Is Now sees Weller revisiting various points of his varied career and updating them. So there’s the brittle guitar pop of Come On/Let’s Go which recalls The Jam, the pastoral, laid back vibe of Wild Wood in All On A Misty Morning and even the ghost of the Style Council is resurrected in Bring Back The Funk.
It’s the former material that works brilliantly here, with opening track Blink And You’ll Miss It grabbing the listener from the scruff of the neck from the opening chord. Weller spits the lyrics out with urgency and vigour, bemoaning a friend’s apathy – “why you got your head in the clouds?” he asks, as his furious guitar works its magic
A similar theme of railing against inaction is continued in Paper Smile (“what’s in a life if you don’t live it?” as the opening line goes), and even more so in Come On/Let’s Go, which brings to mind classic moments like Going Underground. It’s a passionate, urgent anthem with Weller in magnificent voice.
Things calm down for the frankly very odd interlude of Pan, which sees piano, flute and a choral choir employed while Weller ponders matters of a religious and spiritual bent. It’s a brave move, but one which doesn’t really sit easily here. Savages sees Weller on much safer ground, being an angry and articulate response to the Beslan massacre: “You have no Gods, they’ve all disowned you”. It’s one of the standouts of the record.
From The Floorboards Up even takes on the art-rock of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party by being a brash, jittery, angular rocker with a very contemporary sheen. Bring Back The Funk isn’t so successful, featuring a slap-bass technique that sounds rather dated now, but Roll Along Summer and The Pebble And The Boy are Weller at his more introspective and make for a nicely relaxing end to the album.
The truth of the matter is that Weller’s fire never went out – it may have flickered a bit from time to time, but As Is Now sees those flames raging once again.