2020 – Rock / Country
Paul Weller’s fifteenth album, On Sunset, had a great ambition, however, the poor execution turned this vision forward into something totally boring.
There are some people in the music industry who refuse to grow old. From Madonna to Bruce Springsteen, many singers still have several things in their heads to sing for us, and this is the case with Paul Weller. He was one of the founders of the punk band The Jam, which was hugely successful in the 70s, and one of the main members of the soul-jazz group The Style Council, however, it was in the 90s, when he started releasing solo songs, that he started to find himself as a musician. Albums like 22 Dreams and Wake Up the Nation showed not only an evolution of Weller, but also showed him finding himself as a new truth of his, as in True Meanings, in which he started to venture into something more pastoral and more personal. In a way, Paul Weller stopped releasing really bad music a while ago, however, his latest album, On Sunset, is a big step back.
The album’s first track, “Mirror Ball”, is a good summary of everything the album has positive and negative. During the first eight minutes of the album, we are taken on this experimental and, in a way, interesting journey that the opener is. In the first few seconds, we are introduced to the angelic vocals that sustain the first moments of Paul’s voice. In the beginning, he sings with incredible vocals: “Mirror ball, when will you spin? / Light up the room and our lives begin”. However, from there, the track starts to evolve: first, the synthesizers become stronger and a guitar appears, then, in the chorus, the track turns into something totally different from the beginning. In fact, it is an interesting and ambitious song that mixes several elements — both classic and modern — however, it is very poorly performed. In addition to the transitions that are often almost nil and the lyrics that don’t go far beyond friendly advice, the whole track is relatively boring: the moments where Paul sings are not so exciting and the entirely instrumental moments seem a little lost there or seem that have been taken from elsewhere. In fact, it was something that had potential, but in the end, it became an unnecessarily long track without a really exciting climax and with moments not as incredible as Paul intended.
Unfortunately, all On Sunset is like that too. The album ends up being unnecessarily long, with few really striking and interesting moments and full of tracks that could easily have been cut off or shortened to become at least a little bit memorable. Of course, Weller had an ambition to mix Rock, Folk and Country that he has been working on for a long time in his career with more modern elements — as we see on the first track when he mixes classic elements like drums and guitars with space synthesizers — and in fact this was relatively cool and well done, however, the fact that he extended these moments too much, made everything boring and dull and lost all the impact he wanted. In the end, instead of On Sunset being a unique experience that mixes moments of the old with a new and extremely immersive, it became something relatively uninteresting, with more unnecessary songs to fill than with really cool songs.
Thus, the worst villain of On Sunset ends up being the long songs that end up breaking the fluidity of the album and do not deliver Weller’s primary desire for these tracks: depth and immersion. There are several songs here that, like the first track, have an interesting idea of mixing different elements and acting as an immersive agent for the listener, but it ends up failing and becoming a more preachy than interesting. “More” is least interesting track on the album. Even with the French verses singing by a woman and the rhythm of the chorus which is a little cool and usual, the track is painfully long and tiring. Of the total seven minutes in length, Paul sings for three with metaphors that require a lot of work to understand; the rest are filled by an instrumental that, in addition to not marrying the singer’s voice, the woman’s voice and being a strange mix between Latin and Middle Eastern music, is not so interesting and cool to listen to for almost 4 minutes. In the same way, “4th Dimension” mixes classic elements with more modern elements, but it shouldn’t last for almost 6 minutes since during that time we barely have new and more relevant elements being added. These are ambitious tracks, however, Weller misinterpreted them and made them much longer than they should have.
However, this is not the only defect of On Sunset, since there are several tracks here that sound lost or even appear to have been removed from other albums. The best example of what I’m trying to say is “Equanimity”, which seems to have been taken from the soundtrack of an old Disney animated film. While the track has sound elements that somewhat resemble French sound, the lyrics speak about equality in the world. However, the most memorable moment is what you can imagine while listening to this track: during the chorus when the rhythm gets more marked, I can clearly imagine an animated character walking funny while singing a moral song. In fact, this is not a relatively bad thing though, it seems that Weller made this track for a film and decided to put it on the album. On the other hand, although “Old Father Tyme” does not resemble an animated film, there is a very usual sound part that would not be so negative if the album had other more interesting moments, but as this is not the case, this track just ends up collaborating for the album to become more monotone and more dragged.
But, fortunately, there are good times here that, although not as good as they should be, still end up saving the album a little. Although “Walkin’” also has an only instrumental part not so relevant, it ends up having a nice energy that ends up matching the message of the song: “Take that hate / And turn the world around / Get some faith / And plant it in the ground”. “Baptiste” is a really cool track to hear thanks to the merely contagious rhythm and the lyrics that show Weller’s relationship with his sound and how the sound became a kind of religion for him. But, no track on the album is as intimate as “Village” and “On Sunset”. While in “Village” Weller extol the place that he was born and grew up (“Not a thing I’d change if I could / I’m happy here in my neighborhood / This village is where I’m from / It’s one place that I call home”), in “On Sunset” he recalls a time when the world was simpler and better. Although the title track of the album lasts a little longer than it should, it ends up paying off here since, despite a certain intrinsic and lyric simplicity, it ended up being very energetic and intimate in its own way. Unfortunately, these tracks are not the best that Weller has released since all of them at some moments become boring, but at least they end up compensating and becoming the highlights of the album.
Finally, unfortunately not even the best track on the album, “Earth Beat” makes up for the bad tracks that ended up dominating the album. While “Earth Beat” has a very clever and well done mix of elements from an old video game with elements of a classic orchestra that dissolve in beach sounds, in addition to a very contagious lyrics where he sings: “She’s a new day / A new morning / She’s the songbird”, “Rockets”, besides being the answer for this track, it ends up being totally forgettable. At the end of the album, “Plowman” has a very countryish rhythm, but it doesn’t go far beyond a mix between social criticism and peasant exaltation, and the final track, “I’ll Think Of Something”, has a lyrics that matches with closure and a very well-built atmosphere, but these factors are no longer as potent after the numerous negative points of the album. Finally, On Sunset had a great ambition, however, the poor execution turned this vision forward into something totally boring.