Paul Weller

Heliocentric

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Heliocentric is a lighter affair than the doggedly traditional Heavy Soul. It may be a subtle distinction, since he's using the same musical template he has since Wild Wood, plus the same producer and many of the same musicians. So, Heliocentric sounds very familiar, yet when it reaches its conclusion with the melancholy psychedelic sweep of "Love-Less," it's clear that it feels a lot different than its two immediate predecessors -- it's of a similar quality and emotional tenor as Wild Wood. It's also his strongest record since then, a remarkably sturdy and varied set of songs and performances. Sadness and regret are scattered throughout the album, but there's also humor, affection, and, ultimately, optimism -- three qualities missing on Heavy Soul. Heliocentric has many more musical quirks than its predecessor. Strings grace several songs, plus there are extended jams so psychedelic they're almost prog. There really aren't any rockers, but there's the wonderfully jaunty acoustic number "Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea," one of his most unaffected and, well, sweetest songs. "A Whale's Tale" is his own spin on a sea ballad, while "Back in the Fire" rolls along on a nearly jazzy beat. Those ever-changing moods keep the record fresh and interesting, yet Heliocentric still winds up sounding part of a piece, since Weller is focused here, as a songwriter and a record-maker, which he hasn't been since Wild Wood. Like that latter-day Weller masterpiece, Heliocentric grows stronger with each spin, as the songs catch hold and details in the production and nuances in the performances reveal themselves. That may not constitute a new direction for Weller, but it's certainly a terrific record that signals a creative rebirth, which is the next best thing.

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