Formative Fridays: Keeping It Real w/Paul Weller

Every Friday I’d like to highlight an (older) artist that had an incredibly powerful, formative way with my listening habits and general music sensibilities. We’re talking Ultimate Emotional Impact. I’m not going to start this week with the first time I ever remember falling in love with music (for the curious, that was in 2001, while taking in Eric Clapton on his Derek and the Dominos sidetrack “Layla” with my new headphones & Sony Discman) or even my favorite band (that would be Blur and there’s much that’s going to be said about them elsewhere) but rather, focus on another influence that looms large over me even now.

It’s not much of a secret to the people that know me, this unpopular opinion: the Style Council is my favorite of Paul Weller’s musical efforts. That’s far more than British national treasure The Jam (they’re too… incoherent for me personally, I don’t know) and even his solo efforts, though I do find Wild Wood unbearably lovely because it throws into highlight my favorite thing about Weller- his voice. He can snarl like you’d expect Weller of The Jam to snarl, but he can also be impeccably tender on his own. The Style Council is like a weird experiment that falls in between the two poles of pub rocker and father of … mod pastoral soul, whatever it is they like to refer to Wild Wood as.

The Style Council’s overall output is an ultimately messy compilation of Paul’s influences- interests and whims- the band borrowed freely from soul, jazz, rhythm and blues, incorporating different styles and flavors before eventually taking a heavier synth-bent (it was Britain, and the 80s, that’s to be expected). Someone once said to me, “when the Style Council were bad they were very bad, but when they were good they were brilliant”, and I think it’s a pretty apt summary. I tend to overlook the embarrassing alleyways of their legacy because my favorite tracks are so affecting. Paul Weller himself believed in them- “I had a total belief in The Style Council. I was obsessed in the early years. I lived and breathed it all. I meant every word, and felt every action.”

It’s funny to me that when Paul Weller broke up the Jam and wanted to go into a different music direction, nobody liked the idea much. I feel like some of it holds over today with people’s view regarding The Style Council- they are way too often overlooked and their own uneven (mostly towards the end) output doesn’t help, but their singles hold up well. They remain powerfully optimistic and boldly empathetic, experimental yet heavily melodic. I will always love music that is synthesizer/organ based but The Style Council did so while drawing from a diverse number of influences. To me they sound so creative, like nothing else then or now. Said keyboardist Mick Talbot,  “When we first started he [Weller] had two boxes of seven inch singles which were all relatively rare ’60s and ’70s soul, some northern, some funk, these influenced his writing on the early Style Council singles. By the time of Café Bleu we were trying to embrace jazz such as it is, we didn’t see ourselves as jazz musicians, we were musicians who liked jazz.”

Paul Weller is far and away my favorite vocalist (though I haven’t thought enough about his competition- probably David Gray, Ryan Adams, Justin Vernon, Laura Marling, Tina Dico, Natasha Khan, Teddy Pendergrass, Justin Timberlake), and I think one of his strongest vocal performances is on “You Are the Best Thing”, a 1984 double-single off of Café Bleu that brings out his falsetto on the chorus. Much of the music the band released as singles would come off with a heavy political bent- expressed interest in the ’84-’85 UK miner’s strike- but this one’s a simple love song (‘I’m content just with the riches that you bring’) with a jazzy breakdown in the middle utilizing all of the musicians brought in on the sessions (which would include Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt from Everything But The Girl).

Slightly later, off of Our Favorite Shop came “Shout to the Top”, a song that triumphs with Mick Talbot’s use of keyboards.

The pinnacle of the band’s existence, and their biggest and only hit on this side of the pond, is “My Ever Changing Moods”, a soft-seeming track with warm guitar and full brass and Weller’s lyrics at their best:  But I’m caught up in a whirlwind and my ever changing moods / Bitter turns to sugar – some call a passive tune / But the day things turn sweet – for me won’t be too soon. Though actually I am a bit surprised the track was such a hit in Reagan-era US, the music video being what it was- the criticism of consumerism/capitalism is less than subtle. I’m amazed they got away with what they did anywhere- the lyrical content was much like a fuck-you to their British pop-rock contemporaries at the time; Weller saw them particularly in contrast to Duran Duran. I love how his website puts it so much I will straight-up quote the line here:

They were socialists, vegetarian, didn’t drink, wore cool rain macs, colourful knitwear, expensive footwear and made some of the most brilliant modernist music ever. They also spoke out against the corrosive issues of the day, even if it meant the threat of commercial suicide.

There hasn’t been any new Style Council for decades- the band split in 1989 agreeably and Paul embarked on his eventually successful solo career, but I still keep coming back to these tracks. Again and again and again. I think they’re timeless.

[mp3] Wanted
My Ever Changing Moods
Speak Like A Child
Walls Come Tumbling Down
It Didn’t Matter


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