It could be argued that Paul Weller was experiencing one of his most prolific phases before Covid-19, but the global pandemic and subsequent lockdown certainly seems to have accelerated that purple patch. Last July, he released On Sunset, his fourth record in about five years, which became one of the most well-received albums of his career.
Obviously, global circumstances dictated that album couldn’t be performed live, so Weller instead revisited some half-finished ideas he’d recorded on his phone. He then set about swapping files with his band remotely, and then headed back into the studio to finish the album once lockdown had eased slightly last summer.
The result, Fat Pop (Volume 1), is more of a companion piece to On Sunset than a fully fledged follow-up. There’s a slightly more experimental edge to many of the tracks, and stylistically it bounces about all over the place. It’s still a fine reminder that Weller can knock off a dozen expertly crafted songs at a moment’s notice.
Cosmic Fringes is synth-heavy with a strutting, confident air to it (“I don’t believe my luck when I see him in the mirror” runs one line), and Weller sounds uncannily like Ian Dury at points. The title track continues this electronic experimentation, with its synth line and snaking melody bringing to mind Gorillaz, especially with Weller’s raspy, Damon Albarn-like, delivery.
Elsewhere, the more classic songwriter side of Weller is on full display. Shades Of Blue is perhaps the best example, a soulful, catchy collaboration with his daughter Leah, while True is an impressively fiery duet with Lia Metcalfe of The Mysterines, all call and response vocals and stomping beats. Cobweb Connections is another highlight, a beefed-up acoustic anthem, while Moving Campus is a bluesy tribute to Iggy Pop.
Sometimes, Fat Pop Vol 1 feels like a whistlestop tour of all elements of Weller’s career. There’s some snarling rock here, some laid-back, summery The Style Council vibes there. Weller’s long-term collaborator Hannah Fry adds some orchestral strings to the aforementioned Cobweb Connections while the closing ballad Still Glides The Stream is written by another Weller favourite, Ocean Colour Scene‘s Steve Craddock.
There are no major surprises to be found on Fat Pop (Volume 1), and some of it may feel a bit like Weller on auto-pilot. Testify, in particular, is the sort of thing that he could knock off in his sleep, and there’s a couple of tracks, such as Failed or Good Times, that dip into formula and don’t make too much of an impression.
On the other hand, he can seemingly effortlessly produce something like In Better Time, which is one of the most beautiful things he’s written, and that’s quite an achievement for someone on their 16th solo album. Weller could easily be forgiven for just living off that immense back catalogue. Instead, he’s relishing that elder statesman role and striving forward. He may not be the angry young man of the past, but his fire is still burning bright.