Paul Weller 

22 Dreams

Had Paul Weller never done anything beyond the Jam, he would have easily earned the legendary mantle that's lent him the kind of godhead status in his native UK that Neil Young enjoys stateside. But musical exploration has always been Weller's calling card, whether he was pissing off Jam fans with the sleek R&B, jazz, and later house music experimentation he plied in the Style Council. Or the rootsy, neo-psychedelic hints of British folk and Northern soul that's defined much of his '90s solo material while he was forging a comeback amid the adulation of that decade's emerging Britpop bands.

But it's this kind of unchecked musical hubris that makes much of his ninth studio album such a drag. Make no mistake, the Modfather possesses a soulful growl that's still effective whether he's pouring his heart out on a stripped-down piano ballad like "Invisible" or changing gears from the lilting raga of the opener "Light Nights" into the Little Barrie-fueled stomper of a title cut. And his flair for experimentation resonates well on "Song for Alice," a looping instrumental of cascading harp segments, lower register piano fills, and disembodied trumpet tones provided by Robert Wyatt that is an eclectic homage to the late Mrs. Coltrane. But these end up getting derailed by tuneless tripe like the string-drenched "Lullaby for Kinder" and the closing "Night Lights," a tortuous slice of ambient twaddle only surpassed in awfulness by the pastiche of cobbled-together synthesizer experiments that is "111." One only wishes he would have woken up sooner to prevent 22 Dreams from evolving into the lumbering 21-song collection that it became. (Yep Roc)

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