Thursday, October 2, 2008

well, somebody has to be paul weller if he's not gonna do it

I reactivated my eMusic subscription the other day. They were dangling the 75 free download carrot, and Bugs Bunny-like, I bit.

I got a bunch of suggestions from the many eMusic-friendly friends o' mine, plus I stumbled upon some stuff I hadn't known was out, such as two newish Shriekback albums. As a result, by the wee small hours of today, I'd used up 104 of my 105 total October downloads (the 75 freebies plus the normal monthly allotment of 30).

Looking for candidates to be that 105th track, I did a number of fruitless searches. For example, I'd think "hm, I like Goldfrapp... do they have any Goldfrapp rarities/mixes?," but as it turns out, there's only one Goldfrapp track on eMusic, a forgettable mix of "Strict Machine."

Striking out with everything I could think of, I switched to alphabetically browsing the new arrivals in the "Alternative/Punk" section.

And there sat a live EP by From the Jam.

I knew that bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler, the rhythm section of the Jam, had formed this group last year to play material by their classic band... minus singer/songwriter/guitarist / raison d'etre Paul Weller, who refused to participate in this reunion. It almost seemed like the punchline of a joke, to reform the Jam without the guy who wrote and sang almost everything.

But here was a chance to find out how it all turned out, so I chose "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" as my final download of the month.

And holy cow. It's not only a spot-on, red-hot rendition without a trace of lameness or rote nostalgia, but new vocalist/guitarist Russell Hastings has Weller's voice down cold. Every intonation, inflection, and phrasing is exact. You'd never know it wasn't Paul Weller singing if you weren't tipped off.

What's funnier, at least for me, is that ever since the Style Council ended, my main complaint about Paul Weller is that he stopped singing like Paul Weller! Beginning with solo albums like Wild Wood and Stanley Road, Weller affected an unrecognizable ersatz soul voice. I mean, the guy is the world's best Paul Weller, but he ain't never gonna be Sam Cooke or Smokey Robinson, and why he wants to be something that he's just not, I can never figure out.

Heck, he not only stopped sounding like Paul Weller in '92, he stopped being interesting at all. Well, that last part happened sometime during the first full-length Style Council record, but even when Weller's post-Jam joint was awash in jazzbo didacticism, the man still sang like himself. Apparently there's not only no hope of a full Jam reunion, but no hope that Weller will integrate his rich past with whatever he chooses to do in the present, right down to not using the same singing voice.

So more power to From the Jam and Russell Hastings! If Paul Weller's not interested in being Paul Weller anymore, somebody else might as well be! And I can't argue with these kind of results.

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