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Like well-tailored suits and curried everything, Paul Weller has always been something that the British have always been better equipped to appreciate then us State-siders. It was true with the bands he fronted, The Jam and The Style Council, and it’s especially true of his solo career. There’s a good chance that if you did not grow up with a favorite Premier League team or a penchant for black-and-white checkerboard-style fashion accessories, you were probably unaware that Weller crafted one of the masterwork rock records of he 1990’s. Well, we figure that it’s our job to correct that.
Released in 1993, Weller’s Wild Wood never manages to show up on those lists with Nevermind or OK Computer, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. Weller’s second record as a solo artist is one that you have heard countless times via its influence on Weller devotees like Oasis and Blur even if you have never spun the record itself. And no, you don’t need to know your Jam from your marmalade to have your mind blown by Wild Wood.
The album set down a kind of new treatise for the understanding and appreciation of rock ’n’ roll as it was and as it should be in the future: something played by real instruments and conveying real emotion based on actual experience. Weller employs a kitchen-sink of styles and influences— folk, psychedelic, soul, punk, bar blues— and holds them together by virtue of his grit, vitality and the complete absence of bullshit in everything he does. This is music that aims its heel into the arse end of Auto-Tune or any of the other gadget that threatens to turn music into processed Cheez Whiz and boots it through the door.
The urgent opening track “Sunflower” lays the groundwork for the album: it’s a song of desperate yearning driven by Weller’s equally fierce guitar and vocals: who says you have to be an emaciated 20-something to emote convincingly through rock music. By the time you get to “Can You Heal Us (Holy Man),” you can hear just how brimming with confidence Weller was during the Wild Wood sessions. He’s putting these songs together like a master chef does a great meal, grabbing horns, flutes, hand claps, wah-wah peddles, and loads of Hammond organ out of his musical pantry and yet nothing comes out overcooked.
Each new song retains the raw primal urgency of the previous one and by the end the finished package feels more handcrafted than studio-polished. Some songs, like “All The Pictures on The Wall,” are loose enough to challenge the most accomplished jam band; others, like the rhetorical “Has My Fire Really Gone Out?” start off like a bluesy stomper then deliver punky riffs like the prize at the bottom of a Crackerjack box. This is music that is confident in its purpose, too busy existing to care how someone might bother to define it.
For an artist forever noted for his sense of style, nothing feels stylized on Wild Wood. Its production is creative and inventive but never forced, resulting in songs that sound just as authentic decanted in live performance as they do sipped straight out of the studio bottle. For the Noels and the Damons of the world, Wild Wo0d was a blueprint of how rock should sound, but also how it could stay crucial as it matures. This is a record where reflective moments burn with the same sort of pent up rage that lead ne’er-do-well blokes to pick up the six string in the first place. It dares to show that as its practitioners mature, rock not only can survive but might actually get a little better.