Teenage rock & rollers often don't last. Certainly, they rarely keep performing into middle age, but Paul Weller has never been ordinary. From the outset, Weller was different -- too tense, too difficult to fit into the crowd even when he was the most popular musician in Britain, as he was when he led the Jam at the turn of the '80s. That ornery ...
Teenage rock & rollers often don't last. Certainly, they rarely keep performing into middle age, but Paul Weller has never been ordinary. From the outset, Weller was different -- too tense, too difficult to fit into the crowd even when he was the most popular musician in Britain, as he was when he led the Jam at the turn of the '80s. That ornery side gave his music an edge and also gave it a riveting humanity that earned him a passionate, devoted audience who stuck with him through a roller coaster of ups and downs in his career, from his abrupt disbandment of the Jam to form the slick, soulful Style Council to his comeback as the trad-rocking Modfather in the '90s. It's one of the great careers of the post-punk era, and the four-disc 2006 box set Hit Parade is the first attempt to tell it in its entirety, from the bright, brilliant early years of the Jam to his role as an elder statesman in the new millennium. Given the great wealth of music that Weller made during these three decades, the compilers picked the simplest and best solution to whittling down his rich, complicated career to the basics: they picked the A-sides of all of his British singles. This means that there are great songs left behind -- whether it's the Jam B-side "Tales from the Riverbank" or the soulful "Can You Heal Us (Holy Man)" from Wild Wood -- but that's the nature of hits compilations: great songs get left behind. What's impressive with Hit Parade is not what's absent but what's present, which is not only enough to make a case for Weller's strengths as a songwriter and restless rocker, but which helps explain the transitions in his career in a way that may be revelatory even for longtime fans. For instance, in this context the stylized café-soul of the Style Council seems like a natural outgrowth of the high-octane Motown-pop of the last Jam singles, and while it's hard to argue that the Style Council didn't drift in its latter years, it's easier to hear how revitalized Weller was as a solo artist when "Into Tomorrow" follows the fallow final gasps of the Council. Then again, by trimming his career down to the singles, the weak patches in his career aren't as evident: even when Weller's albums were patchy, the singles were often strong, and when they're taken together they aren't just an enjoyable, exciting listen, they tell one of the greatest stories in rock history, one that provides revelations even to those who have been with him since the beginning. And that's what makes Hit Parade a truly great box set. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi