First Impressions: Paul Weller, “Saturns Pattern”

saturns patternAnd then, suddenly, in 2008, Paul Weller was just bursting with ideas, the staunch traditionalist reigniting his career with the expansive and imaginative double album 22 Dreams and following it with the frantic modernism of Wake Up the Nation and the noisy rush of Sonik Kicks. Weighing in with just nine songs, Saturns Pattern would seem to have the least in common with 22 Dreams’ sprawl, but actually it recalls that album in how Weller lets his music unfold slowly and patiently, painting in vibrant colors but allowing each hue to settle on the canvas and make a strong impression. Where the ideas flew fast and furious on the last two albums, they really have a chance to marinate on Saturns Pattern, and the album is all the better for it: A deep, rich record that speaks to the great specificity of Weller’s tastes, tying together Curtis Mayfield-styled soul, howling blooze, spacey album rock, and psychadelia as though they were always meant to be played together. It’s actually a pretty laid back album, too—not that you’d know it from “White Sky,” the menacing album opener that slashes its guitars, pounds its drums, and sends Weller’s voice through some nasty distortion. It sounds at first like it could be an outtake from the color-coded duo of your choice—White Stripes, Black Keys—but its primitive howl masks a subtle sophistication: Listen closely and you’ll hear how guitars and keyboards are layered to create a full, vibrant sound. And that’s the key to the record: Weller no longer sounds like he’s trying to get all his ideas on wax before he forgets them; instead, he’s taken his time with compositions and arrangements that immediately seduce but reveal new depths the more time you spend with them. My favorite build is “Phoenix,” which starts with the kind of outer space keyboard effects Miles Davis might have employed in the 70s; over six minutes we get a propulsive piano groove, feel-good vocal harmonies, and—a wonderful mid-song surprise—an acoustic guitar and organ breakdown, all before a buzzing electric guitar comes in to carry it home. Weller uses all the colors of his band and layers the orchestration like he’s Gil Evans, and every second of the song is addictive. “In the Car…” is nearly as good, building from a finger-picked acoustic blues into something wild and untethered in its sound but still earthy and traditional in its construction. “Long Time” sounds for just a second like it’s going to rock and roll like “White Sky” does, but then its riffs are all sent through a blender and the song becomes something altogether trippier and more interesting. I feel like I should also mention “Pick It Up,” which grooves like trip-hop but feels like soul jazz, and “I’m Where I Should Be,” which swells into an anthem of positivity. And why shouldn’t Paul Weller be positive? He’s been brilliant for a long time now—but on Saturns Pattern he’s slowed down enough for the rest of us to enjoy his brilliance. And he’s made an album you could get lost in.

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