You can’t fault Paul Weller’s work ethic, still keeping up the biennial album release schedule he’s maintained since his teens and, with this latest, matching only ex-Beatles in having a number one in five decades. On Sunset probably won’t go down as one of his greatest though, for all that gets the basic job done for the Wellends among us.
Like his previous collection, it lacks the punch of a classic Weller single, drifting perilously close to muzak in places. It’s full of Later… with Jools ready numbers which you wouldn’t switch off, but nor would they stop you from nipping to the fridge for another beer. “I’m happy here in my neighbourhood,” he sings on Village, exhibiting a contentedness which may explain the album’s MOR vibe. Baptiste is the kind of vaguely soul/gospel track he can knock together in his sleep. Walkin’ is perky, pleasant and full of platitudes (“Take that hate / Turn the world around / Get some faith / And plant it in the ground”). The title track is a drowsy, Style Council-esque summer groove. In fact, On Sunset is the closest he’s been to a revisit of his 80s outfit in a while.
Only More, avec un peu de français thanks to co-vocalist Julie Gros of Le SuperHomard, offers proper oomph. Seven minutes allows time for a proper wig-out at the end in which foreboding flute, anxious strings and moody sax set up a wailing guitar climax.
Some odd musical excursions show his willingness to experiment remains intact, although on this occasion it brings mixed results. Long and winding opener, Mirror Ball, is something of a mishmash – another hint of Style Council, a bit of Revolution 9 found sound noodling, some squelchy 90s hip-hop synths (which make an appearance again on Old Father Tyme). Earth Beat features R&B artist Col3trane for Gen Z cred but sounds more like the Pet Shop Boys. Equanimity is an outing for his occasional mockney accent, a sort of toned down Maxwell’s Silver Hammer music hall jaunt, and features Slade’s Jim Lea on fiddle (seeking that Boomer cred too).
Listening through in order, it’s worth stopping at Rockets, a fitting, slow-building closer to the album proper, rather than wading into the deluxe edition extra tracks where sketchy studio experiments (4th Dimension) and cast-offs (Ploughman) lie in the modern day graveyard for what would have been B-sides. Productivity’s not a problem for Weller, but, record-breaking aside, he’s in one of his relatively unremarkable spells.