Paul Weller: Illumination

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Paul Weller

Album: Illumination
Label: Yep Roc
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Paul Weller

Album: Illumination
Label: Yep Roc

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For more than 20 years, Paul Weller has topped the pop charts in the U.K. but not the U.S., which may explain why his latest smash-in-Europe Illumination makes its first domestic appearance on the tiny Yep Roc label. Perhaps American majors have given up trying to make money off Weller, or maybe the gruff, blue-eyed-soul singer just prefers the North Carolina-based indie, which recently brought a high-toned, boutique atmosphere to the career of peer Nick Lowe. Either way, it's a boon to Weller's American fans, who had to pony up for pricey import copies of his last collection of originals, 2000's excellent Heliocentric. Illumination picks up where the previous disc left off, with Weller continuing to stretch out the compact melodies of his youth, when he played loud and fast in The Jam and cool and soulful in The Style Council. Lately, he's been learning to appreciate and accentuate the open spaces and delicate orchestrations of balladry, and for Illumination, he provides 13 shortish pop songs (plus three bonus tracks on the Yep Roc edition) that tend to amble, resting in the vamp and bringing out the hook only when necessary. Weller displays a little of his old rage on the protest stomp "A Bullet For Everyone," and his energy level is high throughout, as on the noisy, pro-environment shouter "Leafy Mysteries," which concludes with a furious drum-roll and heavy guitar tremolo. But even on uptempo tracks like the horn-loopy "It's Written In The Stars," Weller is just as willing to chase an instrumental break down a twisting path as to rush back to the chorus. Most of Illumination follows the lead of the album-opening "Going Places" (a laid-back love song) and the achingly pretty "Who Brings Joy" (a classical-guitar-ornamented ballad about Weller's newborn daughter), both of which create a warm mood and bask there for three minutes or so. The soft touch sometimes leaves no mark, but when Weller dominates the mix with his acoustic picking and rich, raspy voice on "Bag Man" and the spiritually searching title track, the results are simply glowing.

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