Books

Paul Weller, The Style Council, The Jam: Weller's Always on a Roll

Too prolific an artist to pin down, still, it's not hard to wish that this book about each and every one of Paul Weller's solo albums could have been more engaging.

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.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

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Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

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