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Album: Paul Weller - An Orchestrated Songbook | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Paul Weller - An Orchestrated Songbook

Album: Paul Weller - An Orchestrated Songbook

The Modfather adds another string to his bow with varying degrees of success

'Sometimes, one is simply left with a yearning to hear the original'

It’s a far cry from his beginnings in a tight, no-frills power-pop-post-punk three piece, that’s for sure. Last May, Paul Weller took to the stage with guitarist Steve Craddock, a smattering of guest vocalists and the BBC Symphony Orchestra to perform a career retrospective with new arrangements by composer-conductor Jules Buckley.

Career retrospective might be pushing it a bit, in fairness. The tracks here lean heavily into more recent releases such as True MeaningsOn Sunset and Fat Pop, although there are pleasing nods to his time heading up The Jam and The Style Council, most notably in the inclusion of fan favourite “English Rose” and wedding waltz must-have “You’re the Best Thing”.

The tendency, in recent years, to tie up musical nostalgia in strings, is unfathomable in some senses. Alright, all senses. Particularly the hearing one. The Hacienda Classical and Ibiza Classics projects (the latter featuring Buckley and his Heritage Orchestra) were woefully misconceived – the answer to a question no one ever asked. Their perennial popularity is a staggering question mark over our collective cultural integrity.

With Weller, at least, the concept seems to make more sense. No stranger to a bow or two, an orchestral rework could give a little boost to those emotional swells, lift his impeccable songcraft to new heights… right?

Well, yes. And no.

When this album works, it does exactly that. The dramatic, widescreen introduction to 1988's “It’s a Very Deep Sea” gives way to a gentle film-score interpretation that suits the song beautifully, changing its character without replacing its identity. “Wildwood” is similarly gorgeous, though this is at least as much to do with the presence of Celeste, whose soft and certain tone lifts the song every bit as much as the bucolic brass and swooping strings.  

The addition of a Mariachi brass intro to “My Ever Changing Moods” is a surprisingly satisfying choice, while the subsequent string arrangement introduces a distinctly northern soul flavour with staccato stabs that bring to mind Curtis Mayfield, The Rotary Connection and Colliery Bands all at once. That is, to be clear, a huge recommendation.

Not everything fares so well, however. Sometimes, one is simply left with a yearning to hear the original, rather than fully engage with the new. “Broken Stones”, Stanley Road’s high water mark, is one such example. One of Weller’s most soulful recordings, here it’s left sounding like the theme tune to an 80s US sitcom. 

As a live gig it all makes absolute sense. Of course it does. The drama, the sense of occasion, the newness of it all... it works. As an album, it’s an interesting curiosity. No more, but certainly no less. 


As a live gig, it all makes absolute sense. As an album, it’s an interesting curiosity


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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