There seems to be but a few options for rock’s elder statesmen as they enter their 50s and beyond: either go raw and rude; stick to what you know; or go bananas and do something which, if successful, will put the young’uns in their place. Paul Weller went with the last option on new release Sonik Kicks and has produced a stunner. While traces of Modness are fairly discernible on solo release #11, Sonik Kicks also possesses a healthy psychedelic influence, and at other times sees the sharpest of sharp-suited silver foxes dabble in motorik beats and synthesizers.
Weller has rarely been known to rest on his creative laurels throughout his varied career. The most recent evidence of this is 2010’s Wake Up the Nation which, among other surprises, featured two collaborations with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine. Before that, 2008’s 22 Dreams saw Weller delve into such unexpected genres as jazz and tango. While genres he explores on Sonik Kicks are a little more rock-friendly, an air of surprise still lingers on the periphery of the songs. Here things begin with the motorik beat of “Green”, at once a game-changer and a revision of past signatures; an inherent Modishness lurks just below the Kraut indebtedness and psychedelic guitar squalls. Most importantly, “Green” is spirited, an energetic and intriguing starter. Its follow up, “The Attic”, is perhaps the album’s brightest pop moment. The song retains the psychedelic guitar flourishes of its predecessor, fashioning them into ebullient pop hooks in such a way that, despite including lines like, “All day long I’m lonely / Waiting by my phone…Baby come home” the song sounds nothing short of invigorating.
After the rollicking “King I Klang”, the album takes a detour into the vaguely pretentious (the lush-stringed soundscape “Sleep of the Serene”) and downtempo (the lovely “By the Waters”). In no time Sonik Kicks perks up again with “That Dangerous Age”, the album’s first single and most overtly Mod cut. Thanks to the “shoo-oop” backing vocals, Weller can now add being the founder of electro doo-wop to the list of his many achievements.
The dub-heavy “Study in Blue” marks the album’s halfway point. A duet between Weller and current wife Hannah, it’s akin to Weller’s past Style Council efforts while resisting that project’s pop constraints. Given its strong first half, Sonik Kicks could easily drop off from this point and still be an impressive release, but what remains effortlessly matches what came before in energy and substance. “Dragonfly” is a total psych trip that features Blur’s Graham Coxon on guitar and Hammond organ. “Garden Overgrown” is another ’60s-psych tribute, but substitutes Noel Gallagher for Coxon and throws in a nice Syd Barrett reference as well. The album closes on a dangerous note with “Be Happy Children”, a soul ballad that balances the fine line between heartfelt and hokey. A closing whisper from one of Weller’s younger offspring just about tips the balance, but thankfully the song is saved by another Weller descendant, daughter Leah, whose mother is Weller’s Style Council companion Dee C Lee. Leah has a sturdy vocal prowess to both match her mother’s and serves as a nice compliment to Weller’s rich delivery.
In recent press for Sonik Kicks, Weller has expressed utmost confidence in the release, going so far as to say, of all his many releases — from his work in the Jam on through the Style Council’s Our Favorite Shop and highly regarded solo release Stanley Road — this is the album he would award “Desert Island Disc” status to. Given Wake Up the Nation‘s Mercury Music Prize nomination and Sonik Kick‘s spiritedness, it’s apparent that Weller is turning a new leaf in his career and that other, equally strong, releases in the coming decade are not far behind. We are only three months into 2012, so whether Sonik Kicks will be remembered when year-end accolades roll around is even up for conjecture. For now, however, Weller has made an extremely worthy case for remaining the master of his craft.