With 38 years’ worth of musical success under his belt, Paul Weller is not a man who needs to prove himself to anyone. However, with no intentions to rest on his laurels just yet, the Modfather has returned with his twelfth solo album, and continues the era of experimentation that he began with 2008’s critically acclaimed 22 Dreams. With such a broad musical palette to draw inspiration from, it is not surprising that the nine tracks of Saturn’s Pattern contain various elements of blues, jazz, funk, and rock amongst other genres, and further demonstrate Weller’s willingness to experiment, as well as his undeniable ability to do so with the elegance that we have come to expect from him.
Weller opens the album confidently with the ferocious, crunching guitar riff of “White Sky“, and immediately gives truth to his claim that the album was going to be “big sounding”. Somewhere amongst the swirling mass of a mesmerisingly groovy bassline, interstellar synths, and suitably clamorous drums, are Weller’s vocals with a megaphone effect that embodies his seemingly endless evolution. Title track “Saturn’s Pattern” blends in seamlessly with its jazzy piano, before being joined by the upbeat lyrics, “get up, in a mind to get up, the time is all yours”. In these two opening songs, Weller sets the mood for the rest of the LP and makes it clear that he is out to push boundaries.
“Going My Way” begins as a beautifully melancholic piano ballad with the tender lyrics “many hearts are broken”, before diving blissfully into Weller’s Arcadian vision. A more upbeat tempo, masterfully worked harmonies, and melancholic imagery result in a sonic masterpiece that is a perfect representation of Weller’s ever developing musical versatility. Pay close attention from two minutes and fifty seconds in, and you will fully appreciate the hard work that has been put into the vocal sounds on this record.
Weller’s guitar has never sounded chunkier than on the album’s shortest song, “Long Time“, in which The Stooges influence is strikingly apparent as well as highly infectious. In a dramatic change of gear, Weller makes good use of his entire band, with Andy Lewis providing strong backing vocals, and long-time collaborator Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene adding his experienced guitar to the bunch. “Pick It Up” is arguably one of Weller’s greatest musical achievements. In its six minutes and sixteen seconds, it charmingly combines elements of blues, jazz, funk, and soul, blending a majestic organ, groovy guitar work and a bassline that is simply to die for. There are very few artists who would be able to pull off such a daring mixture of instruments and genres, but Weller leaves no doubt that he is one of those few.
Saturn’s Pattern gives the impression that the Modfather is in a happy place at the moment, and never more so than on “I’m Where I Should Be“. With its heavily reverbed vocals proclaiming “I leave it all to fate”, and the generally up-beat mood of the song, it’s the closest to the Style Council era that Weller gets on his latest album. “Phoenix” marks Weller’s experimentation with sunshine pop, continuing the good mood set in the previous song and proudly stating “I got nothing on my mind”. Midway through the song is a Tame Impala esque break down, with dizzying synths and a flowing piano that send Weller spiralling head first into the realms of psychedelia, from which he emerges undeniably successful.
“In The Car…” rides somewhat on the recent surge in the popularity of blues rock, spurred on in part by The Black Keys and their counterparts. Weller documents his contentment at living life on the road, while the blending of blues guitar, piano, and heavily distorted vocals snarling “don’t wanna talk, just wanna drive”, make the song a multi-dimensional listening experience, and one that will undoubtedly tempt head-banging from many a listener.
Saturn’s Pattern ends on a decisively positive note with the funk ridden eight and a half minute closer “These City Streets“. Weller repeats the promising refrain “still got a way to go”, until the closing seconds, providing listeners with the knowledge that after 38 years, Paul Weller is by no means done. If his sheer delight at making this album is anything to go by, then we can expect a lot more experimentation from the mod icon, and given his recent critical success, that can only be a good thing. Paul Weller’s Saturn’s Pattern is out now via Parlophone Records, purchase it here.
Words by Joe Sanger