As Is Now
ry to forget for a moment that you know Paul Weller led the Jam and the Style Council, that he's had a lengthy solo career, is intrinsically linked with mod-ness, and has a firm foothold in the legendary category. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you're on, this task may or may not be easy. But say you're coming to As Is Now as a newbie, you'll still probably know its one of those ubiquitous aging rockers—it's a precise recording, with everything left just-so, but with the danger taken out. The album also references a variety of styles in a way that sounds as if they've been studied over 30 or 40 years, rather than slashed together in three weeks after quick listens to the greatest hits of the Kinks and James Brown. That feel makes the album a great study in songcraft, but not a consistently exciting listen.
At its best, the disc conveys as much energy as you'd hope for, with Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock and bassist Damon Minchella turning in performances, as strong as anything they've done with their own band (Style Council drummer Steve White rounds out the group). Early in the album, on "Come On / Let's Go," Weller says, "Sing, you little fucker / Sing like you got no choice," and he convinces us that this is a pivotal moment, that music's part of the revolution against everything, and that this album will take us to our destination.
Weller doesn't hold it up, though. His rockers don't fail, but don't take us quite to the heights that the album's opening few numbers, especially "Blink and You'll Miss It," promise. The slower tracks stop the disc's momentum, without giving us the beauty or emotional pull necessary to carry such a pause. "Fly Little Bird" works about as well as you'd expect as song with that title to do so. The following number, "Roll Along Summer," works fine on its own—it's actually a pleasing little number with some smooth fingerpicking—but it bogs down in the muck left from Weller's avian mishap.
"Bring Back the Funk (Pts. 1&2)" does just what it says, drawing more influence from the quick groove of Stevie Wonder than the heavy thump of Parliament or Brown's bands. The final track, "The Pebble and the Boy" provides a lovely piano-based closing to the album, and a much better source of reflection than "Pan," which sounds disconcertingly like a pagan Nick Cave track. This track, along with the misplaced "Roll Along Summer" show that Weller can do mellow well (in case we were wondering), which suggests all the more that he should have cut some other tracks and done a better job sequencing this album.
The album's sequencing might tremble, but it doesn't undo the work of the stronger songs, and right in the middle of As Is Now, we get its best track and the single most likely to get recognition, "From the Floorboards Up." The track combines a quick guitar hook with lyrics that assert joy, sensuality, and the insistence of the ethereal's influence. It's a track meant to get you dancing, thinking, and worrying all at the same time. In the eighth spot, it serves as the culmination of the album's first half, and lends its reverberations to the album's lesser second part.
Say you've listened to the album and you've now had your first Weller experience. It's probably good enough to send you for some back catalog (yes, it's getting the "mature" tag, and, as I said, you'll know it's not by a new artist), but not so good that you'll be carried away. Whether or not you're taken by the music, I do recommend that you dress exactly like Weller does on the cover of this disc. At least then, you'll look as good at your best as Weller sounds at his.