Paul Weller sure has been having a lot of fun lately. The former singer/songwriter for the Jam and the Style Council stopped having anything to prove years ago. So rather than seeking ways to reinvent himself in the public eye, Weller has been playing a steady game of “What if?” for the past ten years or so. What if he made an album with 21 songs and a diverse set of styles to match? The answer was 22 Dreams. What if he cranked up his amp to 11 and let ye old Jam wattage out? With that we received Wake Up the Nation. And what if he just went back to the studio to tinker around with a bunch of far-out modern psychedelic whatever? That’s what you call Sonik Kicks. Saturns Pattern stirs all of the above albums together smoothly. It’s a testament to that wishful “age equals experience” adage that we look for in pop stars. In his late 50s, the Modfather can throw mixed bags at you all day and not have one of them sound disjointed.
Saturns Pattern has only nine songs, yet it is not what you would call “short”. It manages to balance deep, rhythmic soul with swaggering rock without having its focus lose sight of either. Even though a guy like Weller knows how to arrange his songs to be nice and trim, he lets this album jam out once in a while. Together with producer Jan Stan Kybert, Paul Weller has created an album meant to mutate into a life of its own. After reading through Saturns Pattern‘s press material, it’s apparent that everyone was prepared to just let the tape roll. Throw in some effects, do a little digital scooting, and you have another Paul Weller masterpiece that has no problem whatsoever standing next to classic albums by the Jam.
Single “White Sky” is a holdover from sessions Paul Weller had with the Amorphous Androngynous (The Future Sound of London), the perfect little opener for Saturns Pattern. It’s bursting with mid-tempo distortion, manages to be blues-ish without being strict blues, and goes a long way in demonstrating that Weller has neither run out of ideas nor lost his edge. The title track, chosen to be the second single from Saturns Pattern feels like an instant lost classic. By that, I mean that the song “Saturns Pattern” is one of those songs where, upon first hearing it, it’s hard to imagine that Weller hadn’t come up with it until now. It’s a Brtipop/soul hybrid that only he can pull off without it sounding contrived. “Pick It Up” and “Phoenix” can be heard as throwbacks to Paul Weller’s first solo album where he was just as interested in finding his inner-Sam Cooke as he was eager to move on after breaking up the Style Council. But then Weller goes chasing after his inner-Iggy on “Long Time”, but he just can’t help sounding like himself anyway. “I’m Where I Should Be”, a song about finding peace in old age, falls somewhere between synth-pop, adult contemporary, and neo-soul while managing to snag a Damon Albarn melody on the way down. A wonderful, puffed-up peacock, it is.
Paul Weller ends Saturns Pattern with a pair of unusual songs. “In The Car…” would be considered a pretty straight-forward blues/rock number if it weren’t for the various sound effects, odd editing choices, and wide dynamic contrast. In less than five minutes, it goes through a baffling number of changes, one of them being dirty slide guitar work from original Jam member Steve Brookes (Brookes left the band several years before the Jam recorded their debut album). “These City Streets” is an extended jam that got spliced into a soulful 8:24, not unlike singles by the Isley Brothers that sometimes found new life in a “Part 2”. The lyrics don’t try to get at anything deep, they are just a celebration of urban life. “Oh, these city streets.” Of London, Weller says, “I still feel that it’s the greatest city on earth.” Even Earth’s greatest cities still have to deal with sirens, as “These City Streets” reminds us at the 6:44 mark.
Not many rock icons can pull off such a thoroughly incredible late-career renaissance, but Saturns Pattern demonstrates that Paul Weller is currently in the thick of one. Well over 30 years after the Jam’s first album, Weller still gives us genuine slabs of magic. This is not just serviceable “craft” meant to keep the fans happy; this is magic that’s up for grabs to all.