Paul Weller

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Illumination Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Paul Weller doesn't try anything explicitly new on his sixth solo album, Illumination, or at least it seems that way at first. It's firmly grounded in the soulful singer/songwriter style that he etched out on Wild Wood, but there are several subtle differences that give it its own character. As it turns out, Heliocentric was indeed a bit of a creative rebirth, signaling a return to stronger songwriting plus a willingness to play around with the arrangements. During the Stanley Road/Heavy Soul phase, it would have been unthinkable for Weller to loop a horn sample for a song's main hook as he does on "It's Written in the Stars," but he not only does that, he offers it as a lead single. And the horn sample is a good indication of where the sound of Illumination lies. There is little of the British folk and prog overtones of Heliocentric here, and soul takes the center stage; even when a track isn't explicitly soulful, it has a warm, welcoming vibe reminiscent of late-'60s/early-'70s soul. When the album drifts, as it does on the largely instrumental "Spring (At Last)," it's for atmosphere, enhancing the open, warm feel of the record. Even when Weller tears loose on occasion -- flashing violent rage on the rampaging "A Bullet for Everyone," for instance, or fiercely playing his guitar -- it functions as an effective counterpoint, emphasizing the comforting feel of the majority of the album. Best of all, it all feels effortless (unlike, say, the labored efforts of his peer, Elvis Costello, on his 2002 release When I Was Cruel), from the production to the songwriting. This is unlikely to be a huge hit, like Stanley Road, nor will it likely win many new fans, but that's not the point of Illumination. This, like any Weller album, is a snapshot of Weller's mood at the time, and it finds him aging gracefully and appealingly. Anybody who's gone this far with him will surely find it very satisfying.

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