Fat Pop (Volume 1)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
While he’s a long way from matching the prolific Van Morrison or Willie Nelson in terms of sheer output, UK pop rocker Paul Weller has undoubtedly been on a roll lately. His 16th solo release (not counting previous work with The Jam or The Style Council) since 1992 comes less than a year after On Sunset (2020), which topped the charts in his homeland. It’s his fifth studio album in six years (there was also a double live package); remarkable, due not only to the amount of music but the reliable quality of his material.
The oddly yet humorously named Fat Pop (Volume 1) may not have come together so quickly if it wasn’t for the busy singer/songwriter looking for a project when his 2020 tour was canceled. Home recordings were shared to band members electronically. They added parts until joining in person last summer to crank out the songs, many of them live in the studio. The set is meant to be a compilation of singles, somewhat implied by the title (no word yet if there will be a Volume 2) and all but three of the dozen tunes clocking in under four minutes.
It’s a diverse offering with Weller’s deep soulful voice splitting the difference between Bowie in his Thin White Duke phase on the funky, twisty title track (check out the tasty, offbeat clarinet), jazzy R&B on the flute enhanced “Testify” and the crunchy power pop not far from later period Jam of “True.” The latter features sax and vocals from young Liverpool singer Lia Metcalfe. The Bowie connection is emphasized on a largely acoustic “Cobweb Connections” which sounds like an outtake from the Hunky Dory sessions.
The electronic techno opener recalls early XTC, but once the guitars ramp up, the throbbing beat makes it a natural for a club hit even as the selection abruptly ends. Weller revives his Style Council groove with the hefty strings and retro vibe of “The Pleasure,” a smooth slice of Philly International styled soul cloaking lyrics that encourage speaking out against social atrocities like Get up and get involved/It’s now or never/It’s time to make that change/Get in this together/Lose your hypocrisy. Weller goes pop rocking on the bouncy “Failed,” another selection that hides a darker concept (What kind of person have I really been?/I never took it, I just follow a dream…I failed) behind a catchy chorus and cool hooks.
The closing widescreen ballad “Still Glides the Stream” with its vivid, pulsating strings is a powerful highlight. The track captures Weller’s booming vocals over a melodramatic score that throbs and glistens. It’s a fitting finale for another slice of Paul Weller’s eclectic vision; one he has been expanding over his lengthy and remarkably consistent forty-four year career. It’s an incredibly impressive run that shows no signs of slowing down soon.