When has Paul Weller ever not been on a roll?
Every time Paul Weller releases a new solo album, which thankfully comes along quite often, I catch myself wondering if it’s possible for the former Jam and Style Council frontman to ever run out of ideas. Now, I’m aware that musical careers are rarely without their peaks and valleys.
Fans of this particular veteran pop singer/songwriter can rightly take issue with my rhetorical question. After all, I’ve read some pretty nasty reviews of final albums by both of Weller’s old bands, but you can never say that they don’t have their audience. A throwaway demo track by The Jam can be good enough for a Weller fan to swear upon while taking an oath in open court. If you could pinpoint the man’s weakest solo album through some objective process, there are still people out there who can get pretty damn excited about it.
Ian Snowball gave himself the monumental job of discussing, at length, each studio album that Weller recorded under his own name as well as with The Style Council and The Jam. You don’t have to ponder this for long before realizing just how much music that is; six Jam albums, four Style Council albums, and 12 solo albums. This would be an easier book to research if Weller ever wrote any filler songs. Alas, he rarely did.
Snowball tells the story backwards, starting with 2015’s Saturn’s Pattern and working his way back to The Jam’s 1977 debut album In The City (2017’s A Kind Revolution was too recent to make the cut). This is a little disorienting, since some members of Weller’s backing band get a proper introduction after you’ve already read about their involvement in chronologically later albums. Musical trends go backwards too, taking you from acid jazz to mod-meets-punk. Weller’s marriages begin with divorce and backpedals to serious dating. This timeline is addressed early on in the book, but it’s never given a justification. Snowball must have his reasons. If you don’t like it, I guess you can just read the book backwards.
The amusing anecdotes are plentiful in the early days of The Jam and The Style Council. But when it comes to the latter-day solo albums, Snowball sounds like he’s just rattling off facts from a session sheet. So-and-so played drums, so-and-so decided to play the piano, and so on. These session musicians are quoted directly, and most of them say variations on something along the lines of “Working with Paul Weller is great!” Thankfully, there are a few variations along the way. For instance, for all his love of The Jam, former Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher has no problem ribbing Weller within these pages. According to Gallagher, Weller can be a lovable procrastinator or a commanding stage presence with a bad sense of timing, depending on the story. Guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, who lent a hand to The Stone Roses and later Roses singer Ian Brown’s solo career, is a little more complimentary to Weller than Gallagher but still has stories that rise slightly above the usual “Weller was a dream to work with!” variety.
If Sounds from the Studio were made up of these kinds of anecdotes, it would be more fun to read. As it is, it reads more like 22 glowing album reviews written in a surprisingly dull fashion. It’s also a puzzling thing to read so many passages about Weller’s fashion sense when the book is named Sounds from the Studio.
Sounds from the Studio provides some entertaining tidbits and serves as a reminder that Weller’s fantastic musical career deserves more coverage. Reading this book may find you wanting to rediscover deep Jam or Style Council cuts that you may have forgotten about. But it’s not hard to wish that Paul Weller: Sounds from the Studio could have been more engaging.