“You get to this stage in life where you say ‘I’ve done everything that I can do,'” says Paul Weller. As he passes the half-century mark, Weller easily could have returned to his old stomping grounds, whether it was the mod-punk of his first band the Jam or the pop leanings of the Style Council. But rather than reliving past glory, Weller spent the last year recording 22 Dreams, the most expansive and experimental album of his career. “I was conscious when I walked into the studio that I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to make As Is Now Part 2,” Weller tells Rock Daily. “There was this mentality where it was like, ‘Let’s try anything that comes into your mind.'” Weller sequestered himself in his country studio, recruited some famous Britpop friends like Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Blur’s Graham Coxon and spent hours improvising with his band. The result was 22 Dreams, a genre-leaping set of 21 tracks that fluidly weave in and out of rock, electronica, avant-garde and folk. “I’d never made a double album before, so I wanted a challenge,” Weller says.
Unlike double albums like The Wall, there’s no all-encompassing concept or theme, but 22 Dreams still ties together. “It’s cyclical. Our studios were out in the country, and we watched the seasons change over the course of the year,” Weller says. “The album is sort of like a trip, and in the end it brings you to the beginning again.” Between the bookends, there’s the fuzzed-out rocker “22 Dreams,” the Marvin Gaye-via-Stereolab groove of “Empty Ring” and the laid-back, front porch feel of the folkish “Black River,” which features Coxon on drums. “All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)” has Paul Weller sounding like 14 Songs-era Paul Westerberg. But the highlight is the propulsive, anthemic “Echoes Around the Sun,” which came about after an improvisational session between Weller and Oasis’ Gallagher. “We always talked about working together,” Weller says of the collaboration.
For closer “Night Lights,” the band opened the studio doors during a thunderstorm, with Weller and his studio mates playing the song in a live take while observing and recording the storm. “I just wanted to stop and record our environment really,” Weller recalls. “I do love the concept of putting your actual environment in the record.” As for why there’s 21 songs on an album called 22 Dreams, artistic integrity won out over symmetry. “There was supposed to be 22 songs, but we didn’t like one of them. It didn’t fit with the rest of the album, so we left it off.”
With the recent reformation of fellow Brits the Verve, My Bloody Valentine and Portishead, has Weller been bit by the reunion itch, especially considering the insane amount of money festival organizers would dole out for the Jam to get back together? “I get approached all the time about a reunion with the Jam. I just have no interest whatsoever,” Weller says. “I don’t think I’ll ever want to do that.”