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Wild Wood revisited

If you want to really enjoy them, some records must be listened to all the way through in one session. Wild Wood is one of them.

2 February 2014 | Ents/music

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s taken a lazy Sunday afternoon to remind me just how good Paul Weller’s Wild Wood is, twenty years after its release! I’ve also realised that I need to shake off the lazy iTunes way of listening to music – at home anyway – and get back to playing a recording all the way through. Being released on vinyl is the key.

I enjoy Sunday afternoons, at least those where I can get some peace and quiet and time to myself. I am not quite sure why but in recent years I don’t seem to have been able to relax; to read a book or listen to a record all the way through.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to music fairly regularly, but usually when I’m on a train journey. My iPhone and B&W headphones are just about the most vital things I pack for the journey but, despite the very good sound quality offered by this pairing, I am very conscious of the fact that I am listening to inferior lossy formats. And I have a habit of listening to playlists I’ve created or individual tracks.

Well, I have a record deck now and we have a very good record shop in town, and recently I bought a reissue of a record originally released in 1993. This afternoon I thoroughly enjoyed listening again to Paul Weller’s Wild Wood, once I’d got past the shock that it was twenty years old! It really doesn’t seem that long ago… I knew I liked the album – I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise – but I hadn’t played it all the way through for many years, and quite possibly since I first bought it on CD. And there’s another thing: CD sound quality is not particularly good, and certainly nowhere near as good as vinyl.

I think it is the format that has brought about this change in my listening habits; a change that I hope I will be able to stick with into the future. Once you set that needle down on track one you leave it to work its way gradually into the centre – and the end of side one. You don’t skip tracks or jumble them up. And that was the thing that struck me most about listening to Wild Wood: this is an album that is meant to be played right through, without interruption. O.K. – perhaps just a brief break to get a beer or espresso.

Paul clearly put a lot of time and effort into getting this record just right, with a natural flow from one song to the next, including some nice little instrumental bridges. It was meant to be heard from beginning to end, in the correct order, and some of the songs sound all the better for it.

Of course, not all records are created as a coherent work where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Wild Wood definitely is. Some of the songs stand up as great pieces in isolation – Sunflower for example. Paul clearly recognised this and released them as singles. Most records have their ‘minor’ tracks, which sometimes you might be tempted to skip; I don’t think that can be said of Wild Wood. Lesser tracks perhaps, but not minor. Here’s a test for you: listen to Foot of the Mountain in isolation, then play the record from The Weaver on. Sounds different doesn’t it? It’s the same song, but it really does sound different – and better – acting as an acoustic bridge between The Weaver and Shadow of the Sun. It’s the change of pace, mood and instrumentation. On its own, Foot of the Mountain is just quite a nice song, but as part of the flow of the latter half of the record it is very much more pleasing.

The record is complex with fast changes of pace and mood: light/heavy; acoustic/electric; fast/slow. It’s never boring so holds your attention for an hour. The English Rock styles of The Kinks and The Who – as well as Weller himself of course – are tempered and enhanced by American country rock, not something that generally appeals to me but the sound here reminds me of Neil Young and Little Feat, which certainly does appeal.

So, get out your copies of Wild Wood, get comfortable on your three-seater, get the amp up to a decent volume, and lie back and enjoy.

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