The Judges Discuss: Paul Weller, “Wake Up The Nation”

Over the next few days, we'll be posting full transcripts of what the Uncut Music Award judges said about each of the shortlisted eight albums. Today we begin with their comments on the eventual winner; Paul Weller's "Wake Up The Nation".

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Over the next few days, we’ll be posting full transcripts of what the Uncut Music Award judges said about each of the shortlisted eight albums. Today we begin with their comments on the eventual winner; Paul Weller’s “Wake Up The Nation”.

ALLAN JONES: Historically, I’ve been very critical of Weller. I was never a fan of The Jam, which was unfortunate in the days of Melody Maker, because every time it was my turn to review the singles there seemed to be a new Jam 45 out that week. So, Weller and I have had a distant and very fractious relationship over the years. I’ve cropped up in probably one too many of his interviews as somone that he’s not been very fond of.


But I have to say that this album was the biggest surpise to me this year. I read David Cavanagh’s review in Uncut and thought, ‘He’s gotta be fucking joking!’, because I never thought Weller could ever make a record that would inspire such an interesting review, let alone an album that actually justified what was said about it. That at 50, Weller would be making this kind of music is something that would have been nigh on impossible to imagine 30-odd years ago.

If you think about the Class Of ’77, songwriters like Lydon, Strummer, Costello or Weller, and project them forward to 2010 to predict which of them would be making the most interesting music, I would never have thought it would be Weller. But, blow me, I think he’s done it with this album.

PHIL MANZANERA: I think he’s wrongfooted everyone. I had him down for just one style, I never particularly liked The Jam or The Style Council, apart from the odd song.


ALLAN JONES: Don’t get me started on The Style Council!

PHIL MANZANERA: This album, to me, is just awesome, really. It’s so, so forceful. I never thought he had it in him, it’s like a force of nature, there’s an incredible uptempo energy to it. It’s just 40 minutes, isn’t it?

ALLAN JONES: Yes, there’s 16 tracks and only one of them is over three-and-a-half minutes long.

PHIL MANZANERA: The minus for me is that some of them are too short, I would have liked to have heard them go on a bit longer. But it’s a really surprising record, some of the bridges he goes into after the verse you couldn’t have predicted in a million years. It’s just incredible, really, not what I was expecting at all. I’m very, very impressed by it, good on him.

TONY WADSWORTH: Yeah, I’ve not been a big fan of his stuff over the last few years, although I did like The Jam, but this really surprised me. I can hear a lot of Bowie in it, which is not a bad thing, and I agree with Phil about the shortness of some of the songs, I think I would have liked to have heard him develop the ideas a bit more. It’s a massively eclectic record, but I think if he’d spent a little more time on certain things he could have done something even better. I like the little instrumental breaks between some of the songs, I thought that was a nice thing to do, reminded me of “The Great Escape” by Blur. He’s obviously had a bit of a renassaince in his creativity. It’ll be interesting to see what he does next.

ALLAN JONES: Well, when Uncut went down to interview him about this album the first thing he did was play us six songs he’d just recorded that were lined up for the next record, so he’s obviously on some kind of hot streak. Some times I do get frustrated when songs are so chopped up and they don’t develop, but this reminded me of Elvis Costello’s “Get Happy”, in a way. I remember Costello telling me that the songs were coming out of him so fast he would be writing them on the way to the studio, and I get the feeling that’s what’s happening with Weller. It makes the record more exciting for me, rather than fractured or bitty.

DANNY KELLY: I don’t want to get in to a debate about who hated him most; I very much liked The Jam, but I’ve increasingly disliked his music through the whole dad-rock period that by the last four of five years I just couldn’t bear to listen to him put out another sub-Traffic workout. There was a clue to this album, wasn’t there, and that was the last record, “22 Dreams”. There was something that tweaked in his head, the penny dropped, and I suspect, as someone who’s gone through the same thing, it had something to do with turning 50.

In the notes I made when listening to this record, I wrote down the two words “corset off”. He’s taken his corset of, hasn’t he? This is pure conjecture, so forgive me: What’s the point of having all this passion about music, what is the purpose of knowing all these records, having all these skills he’s acquired? I think this record is the sound of Weller taking all he’s accumulated down the years and throwing it all in a heap. There’s a story about some monks in the ninth century, who decided to write down every thing they knew about the world, which at that time in history was pretty much everything, before the explosion of the sciences. When asked by the pope how they were going to do this, they replied ‘We are, your reverence, going to make a heap of all we know’. Paul Weller has made a heap of everything he knows about music, and it’s a brilliant record.

I’ve hated his records in the past, but this one… the first track [“Moonshine”] sounds like Jerry Lee Lewis, then it goes off on all sorts of tangents. The worst song is probably the one that sounds most like The Jam, “Fast Car/Slow Traffic”. Of course, it’s possible to dislike the album immensely, and I think part of Paul’s dad-rock following are having trouble with it. At first, I was just bamboozled by the musicality of it all, things falling in and out of it, and then I went back to it and just played “Trees”, that bizarre two-part song written about his dad, it turns out, who had recently died. That’s what it is, that’s the key to the whole record; your father dies, you fall off the edge of the world, and here’s your new record. I don’t claim for one minute that it’s going to change the world or anything, but some of the greatest records ever are full of imperfections and that’s what makes them, as a whole, as a piece, great records, and this is a terrific album.

HAYDEN THORPE: I’ve never really been into Weller, I think this is the first of his records I’ve ever really sat down and listened to intently, so I’m quite impartial in that sense. It’s very innovative, very spontaneous, I like the fact that he’s let the experimental jams to come through, but even though he’s working under his own code you get the feeling that he’s guiding the listener through the experience. But it also sounded like he was intentionally working outside of his usual comfort zone to try and draw something new out of himself. I think it’s an imperfect record, but like Danny said a lot of imperfect records are more endearing because of it. You love it for the creature it is, rather than the creature it’s trying to be.

DANNY KELLY: We were talking about how The Coral and The Gaslight anthem were restricting their palate, but there’s such an array of noise on this LP, it’s really exciting.

MARK COOPER: I’ve never had the problems some of you have had with Paul, because I’ve always been a fan. But I think he has been guilty of boring people, particularly in the most derivative stages of the dad-rock era, when it was three albums after “Stanley Road” and it just seemed like he was making the same record again and again, just falling back into his old influences. I think, though, consistently since the days of The Jam he’s always been one of our great melodicists, always writing great tunes. And there are lots of great tunes here. “22 Dreams” had a very broad palEtte and was a great record, but this record is on fire. And you get the impression that it’s not finished, that he’s not finished. He’s just opened a big bag and everything’s fallen out.

It’s so great that someone, at 50, can just decide to ask himself what’s it all for? From what I know about Paul, he’s very competitive, he wants to stay in the game and make good records that sell, but perversely he’s done it so much better here by not giving a fuck. That’s what you get from this, what you get from the white heat of the record.

ALLAN JONES: That’s what it is, white heat; this furnace of ideas with so many sparks flying off it.

DANNY KELLY: Whether this record wins the award or not, it’s such a fantastic lesson to so many musicians. There are a lot musicians still making a living past their creative golden days who just don’t seem to try any more. It doesn’t have to be like that, you don’t have to just knock it out, although I’ve no problem with people careering if that’s all they can be bothered to do. But whatever was inside these people who were once creative or brilliant, it must still be in there. There is a lesson here for both young and old musicians, and that is that you can look back into yourself and find something new and something brilliant. Just as I expect Allan to write to Damon Allbarn to apologise if “Plastic Beach” doesn’t win, I want to take Paul Weller’s LP and send it to Prince with a very short note saying ‘Buck up, buster!’.

CHRIS DIFFORD: Paul is a true orginal, both in terms of songwriting and production, and this might just be the best record he’s ever made. He never follows trends, he just listens to his own voice. I think the relationship between him his father was the catalyst for this album; I think his dad’s passing has made him become more aware of his own vulnerability, and it’s manifested itself in some extraordinary songs.

CHRISTIAN O’CONNELL: Paul Weller is such a deserved winner, because he’s still pushing the envelope in terms of his talent and his creativity. He’s not afraid to explore unknown areas and collaborate with new artists, rather than rest on his back catalogue and laurels. This album is rich in surprises and quality. Fantastic stuff.

BOB HARRIS: He’s an artist of such stature. He never stands still, he’s always moving forward and trying new things. There’s a body-of-work factor that comes in to play with someone who’s been around so long, and I believe this is one of the best albums of his career. It’s really heartfelt; it’s sonically very interesting and evokes so many earlier eras of music, especially the 60s, but without being stuck in the past. He’s his own man, he never compromises.


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