PAUL WELLER and SUPERDRAG at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Monday (February 17), $39.50-$49.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Paul Weller's new illumination disc sounds like it's coming from a man finally comfortable in his own skin. The meandering darkness that's pervaded most of Weller's recent solo material is gone, replaced with something bordering on pathological positivity. Songs like Going Places and the horn-stacked It's Written In The Stars are almost uplifting, while One X One, featuring Noel Gallagher on drums, is the anthem Oasis wish they could have written.
For the first time in ages, our man sounds like he's having fun.
"I can be a miserable fuck," Weller laughs from Los Angeles, "but it needn't be all doom and gloom. This record was actually fun to make. I don't know when I could have said that in the past.
"I made an effort to simplify the whole process. The last one seemed to drag on and on, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. This is all very loose and relaxed, and occasionally we'd look over at each other and say, "Fucking hell, this is great.'"
Part of Illumination's rosier worldview can be traced back to Weller's solo tour that preceded the recording sessions. With songs stripped to the bare essentials and without the bluster of a backing band behind him, Weller put in his most enthusiastic performances in years -- captured on the Days Of Speed live record -- and got some of the best press of his life.
The acoustic tour was also noteworthy because Weller finally broke his embargo on songs from his Jam and Style Council days, reducing grown men to tears with pared-down versions of English Rose and That's Entertainment.
"I was in a real rut then, and I felt like I needed some sort of challenge," Weller admits. "I'd never done something like that before, just me, an acoustic and me songs. It was hard but rewarding.
"Choosing the material was fun because there were songs I hadn't played in years, and tunes like English Rose. I've been pretty reluctant to get involved in the past, but that's just fucking stupid after a while.
"I was playing mostly small clubs on that tour and was 2 feet away from the crowd, and to see the reaction of people when I started English Rose was brilliant. I don't want to get too sloppy about it, but it was moving."
To suggest that Weller has suddenly gone soft would be risking a smack, though. The looming war in Iraq prompted him to write the scathing A Bullet For Everyone, a rare foray into politics for the man who once said he was "a musician, not a phony fucking politician."
"The song is relevant now, but I think those lyrics could apply to the last 40 or 50 years," Weller offers. "Tony Blair can't pay England's firemen an 8 per cent pay raise, and yet he can find the money for a fucking bomb."email@example.com