It’s not just the diversity of Paul Weller’s 16th solo album that gives it the feel of a Best Of collection, but the stellar form of the songwriting. Described by the British legend himself as an array of potential hit singles, the strength and variety of Fat Pop Volume 1 has been boosted by an artistic focus born out of the lockdowns of 2020. Continuing a prolific streak that has seen a run of five albums in just over five years, Weller’s latest hits the target brilliantly.
Propulsive opener ‘Cosmic Fringes’ kicks open the door with a bouncing electro beat punctuated with spiky guitars, not a million miles away from Blur’s ‘Girls And Boys’ with more krautrock to add to its driving pace. It’s almost a red herring and far from a straightforward tone-setter for the mixture of places that this album visits. Stepping into more traditional sounding Weller territory comes the upbeat mod-rock of ‘True’, lit up by sunny brass, soulful exuberance, and the nicely contrasting guest vocals from Lia Metcalfe of Liverpudlian group The Mysterines. ‘Testify’ struts heavily with a sturdy funk groove attached to gospel flavours, tantalising flute, and a vocal contribution from Amen Cornerman Andy Fairweather Low.
More collaborations are to be found, with Weller teaming up with his own daughter Leah, who co-writes and shares vocal duties on the happy-ever-after ‘Shades of Blue’. With its verses balanced between McCartney-like pop and music hall, the Motown colours of its jaunty chorus deliver one of the album’s most instantly uplifting moments.
Slinking psychedelica is twisted into spaced-out trip-hop on the title track, bringing to mind smoky urban areas and the underbellies of cities, the sparse, ghostly sound and Weller’s delivery taking on occasional hints of Gorillaz. But this is far from an album of songs made by a man chasing the sounds of others. It’s pure Weller through and through, and only a record he could have made. ‘Glad Times’ delivers another stunning musical arrangement and an effortlessly elevating chorus, while the marvellous ‘Cobweb/Connections’ glows with an instinctive simplicity.
‘This Pleasure’ is a splendid helping of celestial soul music, with a beaming string arrangement from Hannah Peel and lyrically solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, while ‘Failed’ digs into a brilliantly produced bit of 21st-century roadhouse blues-rock. ‘Moving Canvas’ has prominent hints of Iggy and The Stooges, albeit with a more rootsy outlook. Pulling heaviest in terms of emotion comes the magical ‘In Better Times’, a tearful yet uplifting highlight which is as great as encouragement from a voice of wisdom comes. More of those majestic strings find their way into the mournfully elegant closer ‘Still Glides The Stream’, lending an air of Philadelphia soul to finish the LP as strongly as it began.
In an extraordinary career lasting over four decades that has produced such consistently relevant music and seen many periods of outstanding form, it’s certainly no small claim to list Fat Pop Vol 1 as one of Weller’s finest albums. It’s a record that seems like it was unstoppable, its creator thriving, fired up, full of ideas and rolling with momentum, able to move between genres with such ease, and confident focus to underline a degree of versatility that any artist would be proud of—a terrific mixture of exemplary songs from a master of his craft.