He has come undone. At least Paul Weller’s recent lyrics are self-aware. Fat Pop is not a usual spectacle for The Jam’s frontman. His solo projects are a fascinating lost cause. But that is good. He pushes away that angle of rebellious teen hero to filter out the fringe fans. This is Weller at his most obvious and obnoxious. There is nothing better than that. His self-provocative styling for Fat Pop is a nice tone to take, and one he has confidence in. His music stutters, stops and starts with no real meaning, and the tracks themselves waver in quality.
Cosmic Fringes explores that well. It is a track that feels for its end around halfway through and stops with a sudden, graceless proclamation. Nicely done that may be, it does leave his lyrics lingering, swirling the drain of meaning. Weller is not a busted flush, but his desires as an artist are confused and unmanageable. Fat Pop provides rock-oriented tracks here and slow-tempo, trumpet-clad songs there. Title track Fat Pop is the most consistent of the bunch. It has a funk to it that feels unrepeatable on other tracks featured throughout. Weller is an odd creative. His voice is almost a whisper, yet stands out in the slower moments where it truly matters. His repeating of “fat pop” is not the most pressing asset, so for him to lower himself to the back as the guitar and the soul of the track take centre stage is a surprising choice, but a necessary one.
That soulful, neo-psychedelia should not surprise fans of Weller. It was bound to happen at some point. A man cannot survive off of Town Called Malice royalties alone. The creative itch was unavoidable. What Weller offers here is a surprise. A desire to change not his lyrical wit, but his musical style. He tries to pair the unchanged writing with the sudden innovations of new instruments and interesting techniques. Not every song is a hit, but every track has some new layer to it that is not just worth exploring, but engaging. Glad Times is a solid track choice. But for every Glad Times, there is the downturn of True or the passively disorienting Shades of Blue. The phoney joy found in Cobweb / Connection feels a tad generic, but the jolly tones of Weller see his audience through this patchy moment.
What is consistent though is the quality. Weller has a few stumbles here or there but offsets them with lyrical clarity and strength not just of musicianship but of character. It is hard to dislike Fat Pop because it is exactly what Weller proclaims it to be. It is a beefed-up album of pop tracks that’ll satiate the minds of independent fans and rattle the brains of his hardcore fanbase. A solid selection of tracks here, though. None of these tracks comment on the incredible past Weller has, nor do they do anything to set up an interesting or enlightened future. Weller does nothing to distract from the weak spots, but his strongest, emotive tracks are the necessary and enjoyable treat here. In Better Times is not just a great track, but a hopeful note from Weller that the better times are to come not just for his listeners, but for his music.