As the 21st-century dawned, Paul Weller seemed ready to face his daunted, storied career. As the frontman and primary songwriter behind legendary mod/punk trio the Jam, not to mention one-half of the soul-pop duo the Style Council, Weller was also roughly a decade into his solo career by 2001. Largely avoiding Jam or Style Council songs at live shows, Weller – ever looking forward and relatively unmoved by nostalgia – suddenly changed course and began slowly implementing more and more tracks from his previous bands into set lists.
That was the primary draw behind Days of Speed, Weller’s solo and (mostly) acoustic live album recorded on tour from March to July 2001 and released in the UK in October of that year (the US would get a 2002 release date). Alone on stage, surrounded by a bevy of guitars, Weller played songs from his solo catalog – at the time, five solid albums strong – but also peppered the sets with songs from his previous bands. Essentially regarding the songs as part of one extensive catalog was a smart move, not just as a crowd-pleasing tactic but also as a way of putting the cohesion of Weller’s impressive oeuvre on full display. Days of Speed received an extremely limited vinyl run upon initial release, which is not surprising because the vinyl revival was still nowhere in sight. Prolific reissue label Craft Recordings have reissued the album as a two-LP set (his 2002 studio album, Illumination, will also be reissued on vinyl on 19 November).
Granted, in 2001 – much like today – Weller still emphasized his solo compositions. Fortunately, his solo career is full of terrific songs that can stand up among the best Jam and Style Council classics. On Days of Speed, the crowd is lively, attentive, and responds well to the song selections. Opening with the 1998 single “Brand New Start”, Weller seems rejuvenated yet reflective in this incredibly intimate live setting. The ballads tend to skew the set list early on, as “The Loved” follows. Soon, Weller increases the tempo with the sharp soul of “Out of the Sinking” and the psychedelic “Clues”, featuring plenty of manic strumming blending perfectly with Weller’s husky crooning.
Weller pleases the Style Council fans with a few well-placed selections, including the breezy, cosmopolitan waltz of “Down in the Seine” and the jazzy “Headstart for Happiness”. The latter track features electric guitar, which also makes appearances in the soulful “Amongst Butterflies” (from Weller’s self-titled debut solo album) and the edgy funk of “Science”. Throughout, Weller is in an inspired, energetic mood, as if presenting these songs as part of a 25-year-old songbook has given them new life. Still, there doesn’t appear to be a trace of nostalgia in the presentation. The songs sound as fresh as ever, and apart from a couple of very brief verbal introductions, Weller essentially lets the music speak for itself.
Weller’s style would eventually begin embracing a more daring, experimental side, as evidenced by his then-latest album, Heliocentric. The songs from that album represented on Days of Speed – “Back in the Fire”, “Love-Less”, and “There’s No Drinking After You’re Dead” – are something of a sneak peek at the weirdness he would assay on future albums. But of course, Weller has plenty of time to appease Jam fans here, and they get a nice sampler trio on Days of Speed. There’s the tender balladry of “English Rose”, the brilliant social commentary “That’s Entertainment” (from which the album’s title is derived: “Days of speed and slow-time Mondays / Pissing down with rain on a boring Wednesday”) and, closing out the album, the propulsive Motown bop of “Town Called Malice”. Weller will probably never be able to escape the shadow of that classic tune, but that seems to be fine with him if his enthusiastic reading of the song is any indication. The fans certainly don’t appear to mind either.
This vinyl reissue of Days of Speed is a particularly inspired release, as it shows Weller entering a vital new phase of his career with a live set that’s a sheer pleasure to rediscover. It also works spectacularly well for newly minted fans looking to dig into a catalog deep with classic songs.