Paul Weller

Illumination (Yep Roc)

Well, well, Weller – another album hailed as "comeback" in the U.K., where it's been available in altered form since September, and another album sure to be labeled "sell back" in the U.S. You can't damn the man for growing up and out of his angry phase; that's what men do when they have a kid and start putting folded hankies in suit jackets pulled over ties that aren't as skinny as they used to be. You don't expect the snarl, because it'd be pathetic if the self-aware 44-year-old kept growling like the 24-year-old who used to grouse about the modern world, blahblahblah. Besides, there exists plenty of back catalogue to satisfy the backward-glancer now that the awkward-dancer has taken up permanent residence in the Café Bleu; there's always that live-at-the-Beeb threefer available on import or that double shot of performance DVDs out next week to Jam into your earholes.

But maybe I don't want my old punk-rock heroes turning into Steve Winwood; won't stand for it, actually, and don't have to. Yeah, yeah – it was there all along, that winsome wanna-be folkie pining for his English rose, that Motown mod strutting through the town called Malice, all of it and then some. He was punk for an hour and dandy forever since, and the diehards followed him from the wasted city into the sterile disco. So we were conned. Rockers promise a revolution and settle for a house in the country. Twenty-five years on and it's come to this: a record full of "special" guests (in England, where Oasis and Stereophonics and Stone Roses might still mean something) and spring-to-summer love songs, most strummed acoustic and hummed narcoleptic, save for the "rocker" about the betrayal of the Labour party.

Illumination – spun twice on the office jambox, or one time more than necessary – isn't so rank as to warrant eternal damnation; sales will do that, when yet another P. Weller product moves over to the discount bins a week after release. And God knows it inspires a certain kind of wrath; Weller hasn't made me this angry since he was nah-nah-nahing the Batmantheme. But when the pessimist becomes the eternal optimist and starts offering the answers instead of asking the questions, well, it's time to find a new hero.

 
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