Sound — 9
"22 Dreams" was Paul Weller's ninth studio album. The title references the number of tracks, an ambitious project released in both single and double disc formats, as well as a deluxe edition with outtakes added. The album featured many collaborators including Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer of Oasis, Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene, Graham Coxon of Blur and Aziz Abrahim of The Stone Roses. Considered a legend in English guitar music, this list of younger collaborators is not exhaustive and shows Weller's standing.
The album varies from warm campfire acoustics, "Light Nights" and "Sea Spray," to the samba waltz "One Bright Star," to psychedelic anomaly "Song for Alice," which has sitar, saxophone and backward guitar. A unifying factor is that the songs are very textural and seem to break rules structurally, with instrumentals that demand and easily garner engagement, sprouting new limbs round every corner. They boast seamless but often surprising dynamic shifts, as demonstrated by the lead single "Have You Made Up Your Mind." "22 Dreams" is more comparable to The Style Council than The Jam; soulful, experimental, transcending genre, suggestive that Weller could collaborate with any music lover and is not confined to the mod/rock scene. My sole criticism would be of "Echoes Round the Sun," conceived from a distorted drum loop Gallagher had been toying with. With deep lyrics, a cocky groove and harrowing strings in the chorus, the song had mammoth potential but suffers from poor mixing, sounding tinny where it deserved unabashedly industrial sludge. His guitar solos are rare but in fine form when they do emerge, with the delicious Les Paul on "Cold Moments" as stratospheric and spare as an Ernie Isley lead.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics' overwhelming moods are yearning and reflective. "Invisible" complains of inattention from a lover before expanding on the overall void of the speaker's life. "Have You Made Up Your Mind" haunts with the lingering line "what a fool I've been." In "Cold Moments," Weller is "warming his hands in his pockets" over a beat that would more logically befit Marvin Gaye. Weller typically has an unreciprocated love interest, consoling himself in the ever-changing splendor of the world on "Black River" and "Echoes Round the Sun." "22 Dreams" would make a good break-up album as most of the songs stare heartbreak in the face and range from regret to rehabilitation. Weller's vocal style has always been no-thrills and of a dusty timbre. This, and the listener's awareness of his age, seems to suit some of the lyrical themes, as you are convinced the singer has toiled long enough to qualify his morose statements.
Overall Impression — 9
"22 Dreams" is a sampler's paradise, as every square inch of music on the record manages to intrigue. Weller has the bravery to move from reserved to bolshie or strident to vulnerable where most of us wouldn't - not only vocals, or one layer of a track, but the whole arc of his arrangements. I would love to know how he approached the writing of this record; it seems he has tapped into a rare level of control over the directions his songs go, and can arrange ideas that you feel are too singularly interesting to have been predestined for a mold. The sonic palette of this record spans The Zombies to Amy Winehouse. It will leave guitarists with plenty of new strum-a-longs, and plenty more tone-envy. Songwriters will be loosened up and inspired.