Wild Wood revisited

It’s taken a lazy Sunday afternoon to remind me 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.

I enjoy Sunday afternoons, at least those where I can get some peace and quiet and time to myself. I’ve tried recently to get back into something I used to do a lot when I was younger, but which I don’t seem to find time for these days. No, not that…!  Listening to music is one of those simple pleasures in life that doesn’t cost much, other than time and electricity.

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 headphones are no substitute for a good pair of loudspeakers.

This afternoon I thoroughly enjoyed listening again to Paul Weller’s Wild Wood, once I’d got past the shock that it was made in 1993 so is 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 bought it. And that was the thing that struck me most about it: this is an album that is meant to be played right through, without interruption. O.K. – perhaps just a brief break to make a double expresso. 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.

iTunes, wonderful though it is, has got us listening to music in a different way that is sometimes good, sometimes not so good. All too often I find myself listening to individual songs in isolation – out of context if you will. I sometimes flit from one song to another, sometimes without even listening to each song all the way through. This is great when creating playlists. Playlists are, of course, not new: I used to create them almost daily in the 70’s and 80’s – but in those days we used cassettes. They were inferior sound quality too, but not as bad as MP3 or AAC.

I’ve created a Paul Weller playlist, with about thirty of my all-time favourite Paul Weller songs, which is great for those long journeys or when lying on a park bench. The trouble is, you miss out on a complete work of art that has a coherence – a message, a feel, a sound – that creates a feeling of satisfaction when the last note has faded into oblivion.

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, then play the record from The Weaver. 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 nice leather three-seater, get the amp up to a decent volume, and lie back and enjoy. Oh, and don’t forget the expresso – americano will do; I suggest no milk for this one.

Colin Anderson