From punk rock and the mod revival of The Jam in the 70s, through the soul and jazz fusion of The Style Council in the 80s, and a string of solo albums ever since, Paul Weller has proved one of the most interesting and enduring of singer song-writers.
With the exception of David Bowie, it’s difficult to think of another British solo artist who has so consistently reinvented his musical style over such a long period.
Aged 59 this year, he’s just released his thirteenth solo album – A Kind Revolution. Quizzed by a journalist on the title, Weller was quick to deny it’s an album about politics. “I don’t think any politicians have got any answers, frankly. The answer for us—for the human race—is there’s got to be a spiritual awakening, a revolution, for this world to change.”
It’s a theme he’s returned to time and again.
In early songs like ‘Money Go Round’ (1983) Weller was dismissive of what he saw as the hypocrisy of the church. In ‘All Good Books’ (2002) he sang of the way in which religious people distort the truths articulated by Jesus and Muhammad, corrupting their wisdom for material ends. “I don’t have any belief in any organised religion,” he said in an interview in 2008. “I find all that very divisive.”
But though distancing himself from religion, Weller has shown a consistent interest in spirituality and God. ‘That Spiritual Feeling’ was an acid jazz instrumental track he released when he first went solo in 1991. In the mid-nineties, he talked about dropping into open churches when on tour, and making time to pray. His 2008 album 22 Dreams featured the track ‘God’, consisting of a spoken poem read over music by a Muslim friend (and former Stone Roses guitarist) Aziz Ibrahim.
“It doesn’t have to be a Christian or a Hindu or a Muslim god,” he commented, when asked about his beliefs. “It’s just a higher force. A higher consciousness.” “I don’t know about finding God,” Weller told an interviewer on another occasion. “God finds you, I think.”
It was a conviction he says helped him following the death of his father. “I had quite a lot of faith anyway and I felt, because of my faith, and what I believe in, it made things slightly easier. I didn’t find it quite as harrowing as possibly some of the other people around us might have done, who don’t have any faith.”
The power of music, art and literature so often lies in the way they articulate who we are today, and how we navigate our world. Weller has that in spades. Alienated from organised religion and suspicious of it, but open to personal faith: on a spiritual quest for something more and something bigger to makes sense of the mess and tragedy of modern life.
Brexit, Trump, terrorism, and the haunting images of Grenfell Tower. What we need is a revolution. A kind one, and a spiritual one.