If eclecticism were a crime, Paul Weller would be rotting away in Britain’s Strangeways prison for decades now. Ever since he broke up the new wave /punk trio the Jam in 1982, Weller has followed his own muse exclusively, dodging limiting musical categories. His new 22 Dreams is unsurprisingly all over the map: pure pop, raucous rock, airy exotica, classic R&B, and folk rock are all convincingly essayed, only to be left on the wayside until their creator returns to them when the mood strikes him. And yet, somehow, it all holds together. Credit it to a Weller’s authoritative voice; literally, as an emotive and adaptable singer free of affectation and as a craftsman who can imbue differing styles with unmistakable personal touches. Weller’s influences are hidden in plain sight (hear how Weller “transforms” the Electric Prune’s immortal “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” into the winking title track) yet this gleeful musical packrat has a knack for artfully sculpting the sounds of the past into contemporary pleasures much like peak era Todd Rundgren. So the shifting, spacey grooves (complete with piano and trumpet work from the legendary Robert Wyatt) of the instrumental tribute to Alice Coltrane (“Song for Alice”) can somehow rest easily between the heartbreaking ballad “Invisible,” with Weller eloquently accompanying himself on piano, and the neo-classic soul “Cold Moments,” itself so reminiscent of Weller’s accessible Style Council work. Musical schmorgasbords can often veer from embarrassments of riches to mere embarrassments, but the satisfactions of 22 Dreams match its abundance.
About the Author
Steve Futterman writes the "Jazz and Standards" listings for The New Yorker.