Anybody thinking that 2018’s relatively trad True Meanings marked the end of Paul Weller’s decade of untamed experimentation would have reckoned without last year’s On Sunset, which once again offered up curveballs aplenty. Fat Pop (Volume 1) – put together largely during lockdown last spring after his tour was postponed, and completed at his Surrey studio when the lifting of restrictions allowed his regular band to reconvene – finds Weller once again reining in some of his unpredictability on an album that’s ultimately more earnest than exciting.
It’s not without its merits. On the taut, post-punk opener Cosmic Fringes, he sounds as if he’s channelling Baxter Dury’s sprechgesang with equal parts swagger and menace. The question-and-answer nature of the title track’s lyrics recall Sammy Davis Jr’s The Candy Man, which is rather at odds with the song’s spacey dub. True, meanwhile, is route-one powerpop, and the closing Still Glides the Stream is a classy slice of stately, reflective chamber pop. Elsewhere, though, too much politely slips beneath the radar: Cobweb/Connections and Shades of Blue are perfectly decent songs, but they’re also unspectacular. Weller seems incapable of releasing a downright bad album at the moment, but this isn’t one of his best.