Now pushing 57 and coming up to four decades in the business, Paul Weller shows no sign of slowing down with his 12th solo album, his third in five years. Since moving on from his “dad-rock” days with the more experimental 22 Dreams in 2008, he has continued his genre-spanning musical explorations, most recently flirting with krautrock in 2012’s Sonik Kicks.
In Saturns Pattern he embarks on a cosmic journey, with all nine tracks interspersed with strange other-worldly sounds as if the music of the planets was intruding into his Black Barn Studios in Surrey. Never has Weller been so spaced out.
Mixed by experimental electronic dance duo Amorphous Androgynous (Gaz Cobain and Brian Dougans), opener White Sky sounds like Led Zeppelin taken over by a bunch of extra-terrestrials. Atmospheric electronic effects are interrupted by snarling guitars followed by crashing drums with Weller bellowing over the top, before the song eventually retreats quietly into the stratosphere. Saturns Pattern features spacey mellotron and strangulated harmonica, as Weller urges “Get up with a mind to get up / Time to explore”, fading out only to unexpectedly return like an unearthly distorted echo.
The mellifluous, piano-led Going My Way shows Weller in more romantic mood, drifting off deliriously at the end: “Floating on the sound around / Floating through the universe.” In contrast, Long Time is two minutes of raw power in a Stooges-style raunchy rocker with pumping bass and screaming slide guitar from Josh McClorey of Irish retro blues-rockers The Strypes. Pick It Up has a hypnotic groove and funky guitar licks, swelling out into a big finale chorus.
In the hazy I’m Where I Should Be Weller’s voice exudes a dreamy contentedness, with the mellow feeling continuing in Phoenix, where renewal is expressed in space jazz, with a positive vibe and palpable sense of expectancy as Weller croons “Wait till tomorrow”. In The Car opens as a blues stomp then turns into something quite different as it takes off into the ether with sonic curveballs and muffled vocals, including the weird lyric “I could spend my summer nights / Driving round the M25”.
The final and longest track These City Streets opens with the harsh sound of street traffic but evolves into a tender and soulful love song. Backed by psychedelic jazz quartet Syd Arthur’s front man Liam Magill, Weller ends by singing “Still got a way to go”. There’s no resting on his laurels – the journey continues.
Co-produced with long-time collaborator Jan “Stan” Kybert and featuring regular sidemen such as guitarist Steve Cradock, the album shows the well-supported Weller confident enough to reach out and take risks. Saturns Pattern may lack an apostrophe but there’s nothing missing from his musical grammar. He’s still in his prime as a musician.