Paul Weller I saw the lights and the pretty girls,
And I thought to myself what a pretty world,
But there's something else here that puts me off.
And I'm so scared dear,
My love comes in frozen packs
Bought in a supermarket.

— The Jam,
"Dream Time"

Paul Weller

He's an international superstar and one of the greatest musical forces of the past quarter of a century, yet he's all but unknown in the U.S. Tell someone in this country that you enjoy listening to Paul Weller, and they'll wonder when the guy who played RoboCop started making records. America is really lame, sometimes.

Born in the working-class British town of Woking in 1958, Weller got his start as the singer and guitarist of the legendary mod-punk trio, the Jam. Rounded out by bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler, The Jam were heavily influenced by the mod attitude of the Who and the Small Faces, and infused with plenty of youthful anger. They had their first hit single, "In the City," when Weller was just a teenager.

The Jam's first two albums were middling affairs with some good singles and a whole lot of sloppy filler. But their sound evolved dramatically with the third album, All Mod Cons, when Weller first emerged as an immensely gifted songwriter and the band really started cooking as a cohesive unit. Their extraordinary 1979 single "Going Underground" was one of the biggest sellers ever in the history of the British charts. The Jam got even better with the psychedelic Sound Affects, a thoroughly brilliant tour de force inspired by the Beatles' Revolver and featuring some of the slickest and strangest production this side of Sgt. Pepper.

Although their sound and lyrical content were considered "too British" to make them marketable in the United States, The Jam were indisputably the most popular band in Great Britain in the late '70s and early '80s. Everything Weller & co. touched turned to gold, and the world (or Europe, at least) was their oyster. But in 1982, Weller pulled the plug.

Despite their massive success, Weller found himself bored with the rock-band format. He was becoming fascinated with soul and R&B, musical genres he felt were beyond the skills of Foxton and Buckler. And Weller had always considered The Jam's music to stand for youth, and he couldn't imagine himself continuing the band as an old geezer of 25 or older. So the band calculated a farewell album and a farewell tour, and that was that. The Jam was over, for good. Weller has barely even spoken to his former bandmates since then, and you can rest assured there will be snowball fights in hell whenever a Jam reunion of any imaginable sort takes place.

Free to follow his muse, Weller formed his second band, the unconventional and much-despised Style Council. The Style Council was conceived as an ever-changing "non-band" collective, with Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot being joined by a rotating roster of guest musicians, although drummer Steve White and backing vocalist Dee C. Lee soon became de facto band members. Weller had the balls to explore any and every musical direction that happened to strike his fancy, including soul, jazz, funk, dance, Euro-pop, and even rap (and that was back in 1983, when old-school rap was just getting started). People hated it, especially the hardcore Jam fans who thought Weller had betrayed them and turned into a giant wussy.

All in all, the Style Council were not really that bad. True, Weller ventured into pretentious self-indulgence on many a TSC outing, but the foppish fancy lad and his cohorts produced a lot of great music, which is most evident when you listen to the singles collections instead of the largely uneven albums. As much as the fans and the press bad-mouthed the Style Council, their first couple of albums were huge sellers nonetheless. TSC even brought Weller his first hit songs in the U.S., with the modest success of the singles "My Ever-Changing Moods" and "You're the Best Thing" (which were my introduction to Weller -- I discovered The Jam after that). But the Style Council began to run out of steam in the late '80s. When Polydor refused to release the esoteric "house music" album TSC recorded in 1990, telling Weller it wasn't good enough, the outraged Weller broke up the Style Council and dropped out of the music scene.

For the first time in his adult life, Weller found himself without a band, without a recording contract, and without a massive loyal following of fans. He refocused himself on his music and started his career over again, forced to release his debut solo single on his own independent record label. His 1992 solo album soon followed, drawing a modest amount of positive attention. But the next album was what proved beyond any doubt that Paul Weller was back.

Wild Wood is an elegant, mature and sophisticated masterpiece, crackling with the energy of rediscovered confidence. It is the finest work of Weller's career, and by golly, that's saying a lot. Weller returned to his former level of prominence, now a respected elder statesman of British rock. His resurgent popularity owed as much to Wild Wood as to his collaboration and friendship with hot young bands like Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene, who cited "the Modfather" as a major influence. You know that cool guitar solo in "Champagne Supernova"? That's Mr. Weller at work.

Weller Ticket Alas, the Woking Comeback Kid still hasn't cracked the U.S. He practically never performs in America, since his American fan base is sadly too small to make it worthwhile. Amazingly, he did a short U.S. tour in 1997 to promote Heavy Soul. I went to Washington, D.C., to see him play for the first time in my life, and it was an incredible experience. But I'm not likely to see him again anytime soon, unless I fly across the Atlantic. He teased us by announcing a handful of U.S. dates in the fall of 2000, only to cancel the mini-tour a week beforehand (and after I'd made plans to fly to New York). Weller's excellent 2000 album, Heliocentric, was not even released in the U.S., thanks to the Island Records numbskulls who were convinced no one would buy it here. It looks like Weller has no hope of ever getting the recognition in America he deserves.

But to hell with the rest of this country. Paul Weller is my favorite musical artist performing today. The Minutemen are still my favorite of all time, but I consider their music to be the soundtrack of my teenage years. Weller's work is the music of my adulthood. His voice, his guitar playing and his songwriting are all superb, but there's more to Weller than that. I've listened to him as he's changed and developed over the years, going from his angry youth through his goofy phases and ultimately emerging as a wiser and better artist, and I feel like his growth as a person parallels my own. I respect Paul for always sticking to what he believes in and never letting the bastards get him down. Simply put, Weller is The Man.

The Jam Albums

In the City (1977)
This Is the Modern World (1977)
All Mod Cons (1978)
Setting Sons (1979)
Sound Affects (1980)
The Gift (1982)
Snap! (Greatest hits, 1983)

The Style Council Albums

Cafe Bleu (1983)
Our Favourite Shop (1985)
The Cost of Loving (1987)
Confessions of a Pop Group (1989)
Modernism: A New Decade (Recorded 1990, released 1998)
The Style Council Collection (Greatest hits, 1996)

Paul Weller Albums

Paul Weller (1992)
Wild Wood (1993)
More Wood (B-sides compilation, 1993)
Live Wood (Live, 1994)
Stanley Road (1995)
Heavy Soul (1997)
Modern Classics (Greatest hits, 1998)
Heliocentric (2000)
Days of Speed (Live, 2001)
Illumination (2002)
Studio 150 (2004)
As Is Now (2005)
Catch-Flame! (Live, 2006)
22 Dreams (2008)
Wake Up the Nation (2010)
Sonik Kicks (2012)