His legacy fully established, not to mention his primacy over an entire genre (people have taken to calling him the “modfather”), Paul Weller proved his resistance to resting on his laurels with 2008’s 22 Dreams. Far more successful than such a late-career project would be expected to be, it opened at number one in England while expanding the depth of his sound to previously untraveled zones, blending orchestral sides and dream-pop reveries with standard power-chord ditties. Wake Up the Nation continues this process, reuniting Weller with former Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton while providing an insistently strong dose of radio-friendly experimentation.
Standouts include “7+3 (Is the Striker’s Game),” a roving found-sound collaboration with My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields whose military-inspired drum beat lashes about like a downed power line. “Aim High” sends Weller’s thin voice rocketing into a reedy falsetto, buoyed by an undulating backdrop of samples, bird-chirp guitar effects, and powerful funk horns. These songs represent a nearly continuous marriage of messy exploration with pop sensibility, the sound of a man using his cemented reputation as an excuse to joyfully mess around.
The album, restless and imbued with an unbounded desire for straying across genre lines, would be a praiseworthy attempt even if it didn’t work. But Wake Up certainly stands as a collection of top-notch material, representing the second part of a late-term renaissance for an artist who already had a reputation as an innovator. First with the Jam, then on to the Style Council for the majority of the ‘80s, Weller has proven his wide-ranging credentials, segueing from snappy punk to glassy dance textures, and this effort proves less a combination of those styles than their furthering toward even broader goals. The album’s length (16 short songs over 40 minutes) and wide stylistic breadth give the packed-in feel of a career-spanning collection, a record that would feel like a standout for any artist, let alone one whose most groundbreaking work supposedly lies nearly 30 years in the past.