Music Reviews
Wake Up The Nation

Paul Weller Wake Up The Nation

(Yep Roc) Rating - 4/10

Wake up the Nation was released this year to a flurry of well publicised and oft gushing reviews. Big names like Q and The Guardian produced the double figure jackpots that every artist in their right mind craves – even the Modfather should have been pleased. And so the faithful lapped it up, and a few others, myself included, thought that maybe it was time to admit he had done something since Wild Wood and that it might be worth a listen. So with a curious heart we bought it, the tension was palpable, such a release felt… significant; a heavenly choir and some dry ice would not have gone amiss. In hindsight I like to imagine people muttering muffled prayers as they sought the album cover across the New Releases section of HMV – prayers that, I suspect, might have gone a little like this.

“Our Father,
Who since ’77, Hallowed be thy name. The Jam is done, But their songs are still sung, By you well past 2007. 
Give us Wild Wood II to keep us lead; Or give us free gig passes, As we forgive those who say you’ve not blessed us.†
And lead us not into temptation,* But deliver us nothing feeble.
For thy song is my ringtone, and my vote won’t be Tory,
Forever and ever,
† (After all you are God, just a little more Mod)
*(Not to get Wake Up the Nation)”

This newly christened manna opens with single Moonshine, rapid and short lived it leaves the hooks and chorus rammed through you skull with unashamed abandon – while this isn’t a bad thing it comes worryingly close to leaping from the explosive to the ridiculous. And on cue the second track Wake up the Nation does just that: With lines like “We’re gonna wake up the nation, and don’t be no drag” It instantly transports its victims back to hellish childhood memories of their noble and dignified father throwing shapes across the dance floor.

No Tears To Cry follows, a lamenting eulogy of slow rocking drums, tinkling pianos and pained strings – it carries many of the marks of the dad-rock heard before, but here it feels at last like a quality product, achieving the very thing that Weller has managed to balance so well in the past. This is something felt all too rarely on this record, including Aim High and the final track How sweet it is (to be loved by you) which proves another excellent advertisement – a grand, glowing curtain call of steaming, distorted guitars and longing vocals. Before he can latch onto any vein of form though, the experimentation kicks in and Fast Cars/Slow Traffic and Andromeda charge through, both utterly incongruous and all too karaoke. Unfortunately for those hoping for a revival of fortunes an unnecessary instrumental In Amsterdam follows, complete with eerie circus calliopes. Interludes provide two things: they set the scene and prepare the way for the songs that follow; equally they can be set pieces in their own right, usually in helping to convey an overarching theme. I’m never going to discredit an album on their basis but here it fulfils neither purpose effectively, feeling woefully timed and ill-considered instead.

Throughout the album several tracks take up similar roles, blurring the line between song and transition but almost entirely without success. They never quite succeed in either capacity, and seem handicapped in attempting to fulfil both. Meanwhile most of the 3 minute ‘chorus, verse, chorus’ efforts are tame and impotent: Find the Torch/Burn the Plans, is a bland, overblown, anthemic show-piece, and guilty of the karaoke quality endemic in these songs. Crucially it lacks the bite with which Weller’s finest choruses used to grab and hold you. The same goes for 7 & 3 Is The Striker’s Name, all pressing vocals and venom as it chants “curse those fuckers in the castle / they’re all bastards too” but it fails to launch, its wings clipped as it descends into a writhing, chaotic mass of sound.  By far the strangest track is Trees, a five part song including the lyrics and themes for a young woman, a mother and a man. It’s a difficult and wearying listen as he switches between the three in absurd, almost comical, fashion, touting descriptions like “my cock as hard as wood / I stood as strong as any tree”. I can’t help chuckle as he sings “a comedy of errors I’ve become”. Glad you noticed mate…

With such a lack of hooks and entertainment, the intrigue developed by the experimentation and arrangements can’t nearly make up for the frailties and limitations of Weller’s vocal capabilities. Throughout the record they remain the elephant in the room: It was fine when his songs didn’t push them and always had some potent riffs to back them up, but now they are found here exposed and wanting. Above all, the greatest flaw is that there is nothing to bind these 17 tracks together; it’s habitually disparate and directionless.

Weller has displayed the guts necessary to tear up the rule book and create a record of such eclectic and untried sounds in combination: but lyrically Wake Up The Nation is largely inscrutable, while sonically it remains a shambling and ungainly listen. This doesn’t feel like a record intended for you or me, but one created simply because its architect could. No one was expecting an easy listen, but after almost 8 months, I still don’t get it and not for lack of trying. This belated review may sound unfairly savage and unjustified and I’m well aware that it won’t sit well with most, however, I cannot shake the feeling that it’s because the front cover reads Paul Weller that we didn’t dismiss this. I must admit I’ve been kidding myself into trying to find its illusive genius instead. So I must finally conclude: Paul Weller has made a mistake, and Wake Up The Nation is both an original and audacious but inescapably doomed record… no? Just me then.