When Weller got soul, and found freedom: new live DVD reviewed
With latest album 22 Dreams doing brisk business among those who always preferred the more soulful side of Paul Weller, the DVD release of Far East & Far Out seems prudently timed. Filmed on The Style Council’s debut excursion to Japan in 1984, this 55-minute recording of the band’s live set provides a fascinating reminder of Weller’s chameleon-like passage through pop.
Emerging from the wings sans guitar and fronting a nine-piece soul band, Weller is unrecognisable from the brooding figure who felt he’d come up against a musical brick wall in the shape of final Jam album The Gift.
Instead, in a career swerve unseen since David Bowie’s transition from diamond dog to blue-eyed crooner a decade before, he leads the band through vaporous Philly soul (“Long Hot Summer”), jazzy instrumentals (“Le Depart”) and militant P-Funk (“Money Go Round”). Occasionally, he even smiles. The sense of a great weight having been lifted from his pastel-shirted shoulders is palpable. “Here’s One That Got Away” and “My Ever Changing Moods” are breezy exercises in bespoke pop, all neat edges and fine tailoring, while a spirited “Dropping Bombs On The White House” should make all you old-school Red Wedge activists go a little misty-eyed.
This new found sense of freedom and enthusiasm spills over into the band. It’s hard to imagine Rick Buckler tying a white kamikaze scarf around his head, playing a drum solo and then taking a bow centre-stage, but that’s exactly what a beaming Steve White does.
Not that these new musical horizons mean the past has been entirely forgotten. Delivered almost a cappella, “It Just Came To Pieces In My Hands” is a scathing dismissal of his tenure as “voice of a generation”, “I thought I was lord of this crappy jungle/I should have been put behind bars” he seethes, before adjusting his pullover and embarking on Booker T-inspired feet warmer “Mick’s Up”. As the sleevenotes to “Walls Come Tumbling Down” put it: “He’s back! Yes, and a changed person.”