There are two Paul Wellerâ€™s. The good Paul recorded classic solo albums like his self- titled debut, Stanley Road,Â and Heavy Soul, which wrapped Wellerâ€™s smooth production around rock, R & B, jazz and techno influences. Wellerâ€™s sonic demarcation line is 2004â€™s Studio 150, a compelling collection of unlikely and little-known covers. The bad Paul surfaced with 2005â€™s As Is Now, which emphasized Wellerâ€™s ragged vocals and punk posturing that typified his first band, the Jam.
Wellerâ€™s eleventh solo effort, Sonik Kicks, combines good Paul with his adventuresome, bad self. In the songs that donâ€™t work, (mostly the ones done at break-neck speed), Weller tries too hard to be relevant and edgy, resorting to too many techno tricks.
Sonik Kicks gets off to a distressingly distorted start with â€œGreenâ€ on which Weller raps in a Cockney accent against an accompaniment that mind-melds Kraftwerk on speed with the leaden bashing of U2. Sonic continues to sink with â€œKling I Klang,â€ which sports ludicrous lyrics that veer dangerously close to Saturday Night Liveâ€™s Sweeney Sisters belting out â€œThe Trolley Songâ€ (â€œClang clang went the trolley!â€). â€œDrifters,â€ a kitchen sink assault of phased vocals, ominous bass lines and crashing drums is the most disorganized mess Wellerâ€™s ever done, and thereâ€™s no legitimate reason to record the thirteen seconds of sonic disturbance titled â€œTwilight.â€
Fortunately the rest of Sonik Kicks is equal to Wellerâ€™s finer efforts. â€œBy the Watersâ€ is a serene ballad with soft acoustic guitar and florid strings; the equally unplugged â€œDevotionâ€ finds Weller in such a casual 60â€™s frame of mind that he whistles his way through the outro. His love for 60â€™s R & B takes center stage in â€œThat Dangerous Ageâ€ in which an overdubbed Weller serves as his own version of the Supremes (â€œShoo-oop! Sheâ€™s at that dangerous age!â€).
With its karate-chop beat, watery Hammond and dominant bass, â€œStudy in Blueâ€ marries R & B with ska and pulls off an effective fade out/fade in, not once, but twice. Weller sings in an appropriately subdued tone in â€œPaper Chase,â€ mixing Beatle-esque psychedelia with interludes from Led Zeppelinâ€™s â€œKashmir.â€
Known affectionately as â€œthe Modfatherâ€ in his native England, Wellerâ€™s releases are practically guaranteed #1 status in the U.K. (including Sonik Kicks). Wellerâ€™s less well-known in the U.S., but his latest collection should kick his popularity up a notch or two.