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Album review: Paul Weller’s ‘Sonik Kicks’

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Paul Weller doesn’t usually come to mind when pop’s great shape-shifters are listed. But his journey from seminal mod-punk band the Jam to the jazz/R&B-lite Style Council and then to prickly singer-songwriter surely qualifies him as a man who takes his makeovers very seriously. (The Style Council even made a foray into house music in 1989 on a never-released album that has attained cult status.)

As he settles into a role as elder statesman, he shows no sign of making categorization any easier.

Kicking off with assaultive drums, buzzing guitars, spacey synth lines and a lead vocal processed for an echo effect, on the first three songs -- ‘Green,’ ‘The Attic’ and ‘Kling I Klang’ -- ‘Sonik’ swings from rock to new wave with a ferocious energy that’s also curiously detached. It’s not until everything slows down for the ballad ‘By the Waters’ that classic Weller appears. Against a backdrop of gently plucked guitar backed with strings, he croons with a magnificent graininess about the need to simply sit and reflect.

His legendary wit appears on the self-deprecating ‘That Dangerous Age,’ about the quirks of middle age, and with the reggae-dub groove of ‘Study in Blue’ the album almost hits its high-water mark.’ That distinction, though, might finally belong to album-closer ‘Be Happy Children,’ a father’s promise of eternal love, on which Weller taps into David Ruffin-style soul singing that is straight from the heart.

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-- Ernest Hardy

‘Sonik Kicks’
Paul Weller
(Yep Roc Records)
Two and a half stars (out of four)


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