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-- Jim Caligiuri

Paul Weller
Modern Classics: The Greatest Hits
Island

After the Style Council lost its record contract in 1990, some suggested that Paul Weller had lost his creative edge. So Weller went solo and made a self-titled album that spun the jazzy pop styles of the Style Council toward a more rock-oriented direction. The result: Weller was back on the charts and lauded by the press once more. His next three solo albums saw him all but give up the pop sound in favor of Stax-Volt, Atlantic Records R&B, Beatles and late-'60s rock influences. They also resurrected his place as one of England's most influential musicians (in the United States, of course, no one has heard of him).

Containing 15 songs from his solo albums, and the obligatory new song to entice hardcore fans into buying it, Modern Classics is a good, albeit incomplete, Weller primer. Weller's songs have the conciseness of a pop 45 and the tonality of R&B-influenced classic rock. Vocally, he's like a cross between Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker and adds soulful background singers like the latter. Yet Weller's songs also have an alternative spin to them. "Sunflower" and "Into Tomorrow" bridge the gap between Weller and alternative rock and in the process illustrate his superior sense of melody and song progression. An exceptional interpreter of ballads and rock anthems, Weller is at his best on "Wild Wood" (folk with a subtle, driving beat) and "Hung Up," which could have been on Abbey Road if John Lennon had sounded like Joe Cocker and had had background soul singers.

Modern Classics fills only 55 minutes but provides a good array of ballads, anthems, and alt-rock and pop songs. Liner notes are nonexistent, and what about lyrics? For that matter, the titles are hard to read on the back cover. No matter: The music's stellar. The Modfather has created vital work that has a sense of familiarity to it without sounding retrogressive. Simply put, it's some of the best of the decade.

-- Paul J. MacArthur

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