(#526: 27 May 1995, 1 week)
Track listing: The Changingman/Porcelain Gods/I Walk On Gilded Splinters/You Do Something To Me/Woodcutter’s Son/Time Passes…/Stanley Road/Broken Stones/Out Of The Sinking/Pink On White Walls/Whirlpools’ End/Wings Of Speed
The last time Paul Weller appeared in this tale, a decade ago, I mentioned his general mood of pre-emptive ennui secondary to the knowledge that “we” had been beaten. In 1995 he looked still to be in retreat, even though the next generation had obligingly “brought him back” as a talisman of holy sports sock.
It was only his Wise Old Britpop Prophet status that allowed him to be publicly embraced again, since most of Stanley Road would otherwise have been slammed up against the wall when In The City happened. Most of the record consists of enervating pub-rock jamming, and although producer Brendan Lynch does his best to spice up the atmosphere with his comedy sound effects, the music sounds boxed in, constipated, as though Weller’s inner Mod remained reluctant to open the curtains and allow “musicianship” to penetrate the room of puce cool. He himself sounds sorely in need of a bowl of All Bran.
The words are typically evasive, semi-random cracker-barrel philosophising and the music stalwartly uninvolving. Fair enough; if you’re going to do an ELO knock-off, do so with their best song. But the Dr John mauling (with guest guitarist Noel Gallagher virtually inaudible) is so drearily and unfrighteningly worthy that one ends up wanting to hear The Dooleys covering it. “Broken Stones” even reaches back to The Jam to somehow lesser effect. By the time we get to “Woodcutter’s Son” we are in the land of Monty Python’s lumberjacks.
Steve Winwood drops by to lend a hand on a couple of songs, which does betray the subtext somewhat, namely to revisit the easy-going early seventies jam band version of Traffic. However, Weller seems reluctant to admit that it’s the done thing to have chops, and so we get a dusty photocopy of 1973 rather than pretence to the thing itself. The fact that Traffic had reformed, sort of (it was essentially Winwood and Capaldi plus a couple of guests), the year before and released a moderately more inventive album (Far From Home) didn’t help matters.
“Whirlpools’ End” almost gets somewhere but ends up too timid to pursue its ambitions – it is more like Neil Weller and Moderately Irrational Horse (meanwhile, the actual Neil Young of 1995 was working with Pearl Jam and produced the immensely better Mirrorball). Actually, there you have the secret of the record’s success; Stanley Road is the type of album Neil Godwin from The Office would purchase to prove that he was still with it – in 2000. Yet the sleeve’s imagery and its implications are what a (largely male and white) British audience wanted in the mid-nineties; Peter Blake cover, Stax, Aretha, Lennon, George Best, Britain Is Well Loaded Again.
Meanwhile, on a 1995 level, I would much rather have been writing about CrazySexyCool or Brown Sugar. I think of the stencilled poster I saw on my way into work this morning which says: “#NOGOINGBACK ‘NORMAL’ WAS THE PROBLEM.” Stanley Road is so normal that you want to throw a custard pie at it. And Weller always insists that he was never a punk in the first place. But one of punk’s main aims was to dethrone people like Eric Clapton. What does it tell us about mid-nineties Britain, or indeed punk, that Clapton ended up musically hipper than Weller?