On Sunset is Paul Weller’s fifteenth studio album, or 26th if you include his work with The Jam and The Style Council, and it’s warm, road trip music.
The albums watertight production and range of instrumentation is where On Sunset is at its strongest, with keys, brass arrangements and strings built around Weller’s raspy vocals and guitar. Opening track ‘Mirror Ball’ is about an ambitious and experimental opener as any, lasting over 7 minutes and setting the album’s tone as soulful and sun-soaked. With glitchy, experimental interludes pulling the track from one style to another, the track veers slightly on the side of indulgent and could be cut back slightly.
Finding fame with The Jam back in the 70s, Weller has had a long, varied and successful career. Weller has been particularly successful in being able to draw on a wide variety of musical influences to reinvent himself and avoid the trope of an ageing rocker living through his initial successes. ‘On Sunset’ takes a trip down sunset boulevard: ‘And the sun was high on sunset/But the world I knew/ Has all moved on/ All the places that we used to go/Belong to a time.” The song, with its cinematic guitar riffs, strings and brass section, almost feels like a love letter to a long-forgotten LA of the 70s and 80s. ‘Equanimity’brings a 60s rock n roll, Sgt Pepper Beatles, vibe to the record whereas ‘Baptiste’ is a soul inspired crooner, with gospel vocals laid onto electric guitar riffs.
While On Sunsetworks better together when listened to all together rather than individual songs, this isn’t to say the album doesn’t have particular high points. In particular ‘More’ brings a brooding tone with a slow tempo and French backing vocals, breaking up the more mellow, sunny tracks. Lyrically the track sees Weller become reflective on the pursuit of success and finding fulfilment in life: “But little came from having more… The more we get, the more we lose/When all is more, it’s more we choose/There’s always something else in store.” Album closer ‘Rockets’ takes a trip into space and channels Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. The electronic beat-driven ‘Earth Beat’ shows Weller’s talent for experimenting with sounds and blending them together tastefully.
Where On Sunset truly shines is through the expansive musical inspiration and strong production. The album is a melting pot of rock, jazz, soul and lounge music, played through a myriad of different instruments. While not Weller’s strongest album to date, On Sunset shows his ability to reinvent himself musically. This time with a mellow, mature and sepia hued sound.