"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In your ear
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Paul Weller
As Is Now
V2 Japan, 2,520 yen

As the driving force behind the Jam in the late '70s and early '80s Paul Weller inspired many musicians who went on to form the core of the Britpop scene in the '90s.

As Is Now has Weller painting in bold strokes from his broad palette of stylistic colors, from the white-boy funk/rock of "Blink and You'll Miss it" to the acoustic Led Zepplinesque hippie pastoral of "All on a Misty Morning." While those tunes represent the stylistic extremes of the album, Weller is at his best when wearing his '60s British invasion and soul influences on his sleeve, summoning up the ghosts of the Kinks and the Who on rockers like "Come On/Let's Go" and "From the Floorboards Up" and echoing Small Faces on "Paper Smile."

Recorded mainly live off the studio floor over a couple of weeks in the spring, As Is Now has a cohesive sound that bodes well for any tour plans. The production and arrangements have a very '70s commercial pop feel with fat dixieland horns on the melodic piano-driven "Here's the Good News," a song that sounds like one of the better outtakes from an early Wings album.

On the other hand, the sweet strings and backing vocals on the ponderous "Pan" make it sound like a Spinal Tap leftover. Weller's fondness for jazzy soul and funk is admirable, but the seven-minute "Bring Back the Funk" makes one long for George Clinton and makes a compelling case for long jail sentences for anyone not from the American South who uses "y'all" unironically.

Despite these occasional overreaches, the quality of the songs and the performances are of a fairly high standard. Weller shows he still has the songwriting chops and voice that made the Jam one of the most popular bands of the early '80s. While composed entirely of new material, As Is Now sounds like a collection of hit singles and B-sides that span Weller's 30-year career in pop music.

Royal Albert Hall, London May 2-3-5-6, 2005
Warner Music Japan,
3,480 yen

Seminal power trio Cream reunited for four concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall in early May, 37 years after Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker played their final show together there.
The result is an excellent live double CD that puts the classic in classic rock. Cream dust off the classic blues tunes, like "Spoonful" and "Crossroads," that they helped repopularize back in the day, along with milestone originals such as "Badge," "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room."

Producing four albums from their formation in 1966 to their breakup in 1968, Cream, along with contemporary Jimi Hendrix, largely invented the blues-drenched genre of heavy rock and ushered in the era of long jams and virtuoso playing in pop music, making an international star of Clapton in the process.

Their reunion album shows that all three have come through the fires of the last four decades with their impressive talents intact. Baker may be over 60, but his lengthy drum solo on "Toad" shows he can still thrash the skins with the best. Bruce's voice has lost a little range in the upper register, but still has plenty of power and an almost operatic timbre. And the other guy hasn't played with this kind of verve in years.

A studio album of new material from this trio of similar quality just might qualify as the second coming of Clapton.
(Oct. 20, 2005)

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