It’s 1982 and The Jam have just unleashed Town Called Malice, a wistful homage to lead singer and guitarist Paul Weller’s hometown of Woking.
Driven by Weller’s trademark dulcet drawl, The Jam’s sneering, no nonsense approach cut through the squal of synth-pop dominating the charts to take the coveted top spot.
Spool forward 30 years spanning both the demise of The Jam and the rise of an illustrious solo career, it’s clear the Modfather’s fierce work ethic shows no sign of abating.
But in Sonik Kicks, Weller’s 11th solo effort, you rather get the feeling the man who belted out the immortal lines "stop apologising for the things you've never done, because time is short and life is cruel, and it's up to us to change" has finally taken his own lament to heart.
Indeed, Weller signals his intentions on prickly opening salvo ‘Green’ which spits and growls into life underpinned by machine gun synths seemingly inspired by Krautrock luminaries Neu! or even Kraftwerk, whose 1982 hit ‘Computer Love’ The Jam later displaced with Town Called Malice. This is not the Weller we’ve grown to know and love.
‘The Attic’ and ‘That Dangerous Age’, however, are timely reminders of the Modfather’s punk rock roots: two furious anthems which extol the virtues of life’s minutiae and maintain a level of social commentary synonymous with Weller’s work since the early 70s, albeit amid flashes of 21st century sensibility.
"He likes three sugars in his coffee, he wants that chick in the office, he's took to staying up late, he's on a much higher rate,” he cries irreverently on the latter, making no bones of his own self-awareness.
And while some might accuse Sonik Kicks of staggering from one sonic cliché to another, Weller has nonetheless managed to capture the essence of his sometimes awry experimentation in ‘Study In Blue’, a six-and-a-half minute centrepiece which meanders effortlessly from jazz to dub via a healthy toke of psychedelia. I’ll have what you’re having, Paul.
It would be all-too-easy to dismiss Sonik Kicks for its disparate and often hackneyed influences, perhaps most notably on clangers like ‘Kling I Klang’. But while this is certainly not a step backward for the Modfather, is it really a step forward?
No, Sonik Kicks is a mutation. And after some 30 years in the business, its hard to find fault with someone who is so readily prepared to experiment and, for the most part, succeed.