Can you imagine Paul Weller’s latest album shooting to the top of the Billboard 200?
Sure, as soon as John Q. Kansas figures out who the heck Paul Weller is. The perennial poster boy for the huge-in-England, unknown-in-America musical phenomenon, Weller’s entire career—from his days leading mod-punk pioneers The Jam and sophisti-pop outfit The Style Council in the ’70s and ’80s, through his solo releases of the past two decades—has been worshipped on one side of the Atlantic and largely ignored on the other.
Listening to 22 Dreams, it’s tough to envision a world in which this sort of music could be embraced enough to dent a chart, to say nothing of debuting at No. 1, as it did last month in the U.K. The disc is ambitious, genre-expansive and, in its way, as far from catchy as noise-rock or free jazz would seem to most mainstream ears over here.
That might sound good, in theory, to adventurous sound seekers, but mostly it’s not. Much of 22 Dreams’ bloated 21-track sequence consists of mellow Tom Jones-y lounge fare (“Empty Ring,” “Cold Moments”), complete with unwise detours into bossa nova (“One Bright Star”) and smooth Sunday brunch ambience (“Lullaby Fur Kinder”).
On the plus side, Weller rocks out a bit (thankfully) on the Noel Gallagher collaboration “Echoes Round the Sun,” while “Song for Alice” and “Night Lights” say a fair bit without words. But when a chart-topping singer-songwriter’s most poignant moments come during a pair of instrumentals, the British have some real explaining to do.
The bottom line: **