Far too often releasing a covers album is either an artist’s excuse for a lack of new material or simply a stopgap between studio albums, exploiting fans hungry for anything with their heroes’ name on it. It would be easy to accuse Paul Weller of doing this, but Studio 150, his first release on the V2 label, offers much more.
The Modfather hasn’t just picked twelve modern classics to record here, he has chosen a selection of his own personal favourites, many of which listeners will be hearing for the first time on this record. The end result is that most of these songs could well have been new Weller songs if we didn’t know they were actually covers.
With a little help from his friends, including long time collaborator Steve White on drums and Ocean Colour Scene‘s Steve Craddock on guitar, as well as cameo roles for Eliza Carthy and The Stands, Weller has put together an excellent album with that unique Weller stamp all over it.
The album, which was recorded at Studio 150 in Amsterdam (hence the title), kicks off in fine fashion with a very bluesy sounding version of Nolan Porter’s Northern Soul classic If Only I Could Be Sure. Saturated in that familiar Weller trademark sound, complete with gruff vocal, the song also features some great retro organ instrumentation.
Wishing On A Star, which is the second single to be released from the album, is one of the surprise high points of the CD. Shimmering cymbals, bells and harp open the song before a funky bass line, a surprise guitar solo and a sprinkling of strings are all added to the mix of this unlikely success. Instead of trying to repeat Rose Royce’s ’70s classic, he has used the original ingredients and morphed them into his own mix, with an immensely soulful vocal to boot.
After tackling Tim Hardin’s Don’t Make Promises, the album builds into a frantic pace for a version of jazz legend Gil Scott Heron’s The Bottle. As well as great sax and flute solos, the song is notable for featuring the welcome sounds of the wah wah guitar too.
The tempo slows right down for the beautiful Black Is The Colour. This traditional Scottish folk song is the first of two tracks to feature Eliza McCarthy on violin. The second of the pair, Early Morning Rain, is my personal favourite out of the 12 songs. Weller might agree as he is heard to say “this is the one” before going into the Gordon Lightfoot penned acoustic ditty.
The ex-Jam man even manages to successfully cover a Carpenters song, turning out a bouncy version of Close To You – one of the more famous songs on the CD. Another, his version of Sister Sledge‘s Thinking Of You, also works wonderfully well as he lends double-bass, strings and plenty of acoustic guitar to the soul classic.
The Stands provide backing vocals on the Oasis cover One Way Road, a song on which Weller gets to use the grittier side of his voice. He attempts to do the same on his interpretation of All Along The Watchtower, but this is the only real disappointment on the album. It has to be said that any Hendrix classic is a hard act to follow but the screeching gospel voices at the start leave the song with a mountain to climb before it even gets going.
The album does end on a wonderful high though with Birds. The piano-soaked Neil Young cover has shades of one of Weller’s finest moments, Wings Of Speed from Stanley Road. And this time the backing vocals are more soothing than screeching, helping to take you off to dreamland, as Weller sings “it’s over”.