On his 15th studio album, On Sunset finds Paul Weller as a beacon of contentment and optimism with sprinklings of musical exploration throughout. The hazy ‘Mirror Ball’ is a brave and complex first track. It pulls you in various cosmic directions, appreciating music’s evolution over the years. Amidst the complexity, the timeless themes of love and yearning are present throughout – “In every blade of grass, I feel you”.
Weller’s refreshing awe and faith in the craft of creating music is celebrated in the gospel-inspired ‘Baptiste’. “As long as I have that sound / Straight through my heart, straight to my soul”. Even though ‘Village’ can at times smack of cliche and sentimentality – “Not a single cloud in my eye / Like the whole world is in my hands”, there are elements of the classic Weller in here too, with its soulful texture and easy flow.
French singer Julie Gros guests on the fragmented ‘More’, which meanders from jazz into 70s funk, progressing to folk, with influences from the likes of Stevie Winwood & Traffic. Weller sings “The more we get the more we lose”. Perhaps there is just too much in this song and it struggles to find its true direction.
His seminal Stanley Road album turns 25 this year. On Sunset is worlds apart from his solo work of the early and mid-90s, and this is clearly where he wants to be. Weller has made it known that he doesn’t want to blindly produce the type of music that his dedicated fan base expects him to, which is worthy of respect. He continues to experiment, re-invent and collaborate with diverse artists such as Col3trane & The Staves on ‘Earth Beat’ and Slade’s Jim Lea on ‘Equanimity’. It’s also great to hear enduring guitarist Steve Cradock remaining at Weller’s side, who has been present on all of Weller’s solo projects since 1992.
The title track, ‘On Sunset’ is drenched in nostalgia, with Weller looking back reflectively over his shoulder, something that this collection of songs veer towards just too often on this album – “As the warm breeze blew, when the sun was high, on sunset / When the world I knew has all gone by / All the places we used to go, belonged to a time, someone else’s life”
The searing finale, ‘Rockets’ will rightfully have eerie comparisons to Bowie. It’s one of the best tracks on the album where Weller encourages all of us to wake up to everyday joy and refrain from getting lured into the materialistic quest for success – “Just took off, rocket to the sun / We grow up if we can join the dots / the institutions are still in control / all the wealth is hidden / they’ll have it all, it’s worthless”.
Weller’s peace with himself and his general state of zen are everywhere to be found on this album, which in itself is no bad thing. Weller sings about ‘Equanimity’ and there is certainly a balanced piece of work here. On Sunset has a warmth and cohesiveness in its collective form, however, its lack of edge makes it too unintrusive to be truly memorable.