Arriving between the implosion of the Style Council and the commercial comeback of Wild Wood, Paul Weller’s eponymous 1992 debut is sometimes overlooked, but it’s one of his finest records, a smooth, soulful excursion pitched precisely between the sophisticated swing of the Style Council and the rustic rock of Wild Wood. In the wake of the disastrous unreleased house album from Style Council, Weller chose to dig into his roots, relying heavily on Curtis Mayfield records and a dash of Traffic’s jazz lilt, creating a cool groove of an album, one that warmed well to light elements of acid house, whether it’s the extended coda of “Kosmos” or the many remixes of the album’s singles (all collected on Universal’s 2009 double-disc deluxe edition). As pure sound, Paul Weller is seductive -- it’s supple and relaxed, easing into its vamps and rhythms, maintaining its tone through shifts of tempos -- but it sticks because its Weller’s best set of songs in years, anchored by the tight opening rocker “Uh-Huh Oh Yeh,” the soulful lament “I Didn’t Mean to Hurt You,” the insistent pulse of “Bull Rush,” the gorgeous shimmer of “Bitterness Rising,” and the revitalizing rush of “Into Tomorrow.” Every one of these songs bears traces of Weller’s decade-long immersion in soul, but what makes it a leap forward is that no matter how familiar some of this feels -- and there really is no mistaking the lasting impression of Mayfield -- it all plays not as recycled but synthesized, Weller creating something new and true from his inspiration. He would soon underscore the rock and folk elements, quite wonderfully so, on Wild Wood, but everything here laid the groundwork for the third act of Weller’s career and it remains compelling and alluring in its own right.
Generous as it may be, the deluxe edition doesn’t exactly deliver a lot of surprises for the hardcore Weller collector, but that’s only because this well has been tapped many times over, with all the stray tracks appearing as bonus discs in various territories, or as part of B-sides collections -- everything except an album-specific expansion, which this 2009 double-disc set is. Weller’s 1992 eponymous debut grows by 25 tracks here, with all the B-sides -- including “Fly on the Wall,” the lengthy jam “That Spiritual Feeling,” and a prescient cover of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” that pointed the way toward Wild Wood -- spread over the two discs, along with a hefty dose of demos, alternate and acoustic versions, and the Lynch Mob beats remix of “Kosmos” that helped bolster his ties to Britain’s underground club scene. Again, none of this material is unreleased, but this may be the best way to hear it all, as it’s presented in historical context, and it’s sequenced in a smooth, entertaining sequence that enhances this already excellent album, turning it into a richer experience.