William Cooper rounds up the top five lyrics from The Modfather, Paul Weller.
Paul Weller, A.K.A, The Modfather, is one of the most talented lyricists and musicians to have ever lived. His seemingly effortless capability to combine words and phrases, and to balance the power of music and lyrics against each other so one doesn’t overpower the other, is a talent that occurs very rarely. However, his words are not luxurious or flamboyant. Weller has always had a distinct ability to portray an immensely powerful image and emotion through beautifully simplistic language.
It is unfortunate therefore that many people do not know who The Modfather is. Many of my generation see him as an old man now, sitting on the boundary of musical relevance. They would not remember the time when he was lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for The Jam, one of the most prolific punk-rock bands in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I wish this were not the case. I have learnt a lot about myself and life in general from his songs and albums, mostly from his early career with The Jam and The Style Council.
My father first introduced me to Weller when I was a baby; he would play a wide plethora of his songs in the living room and would listen to them with me resting, quite oblivious to the brilliance of the music, on his shoulder. However, I like to believe that from a young age I was exposed to some of the best music that came out of the late 20th Century.
As I grew up, I first began listening to The Jam, Weller’s first band in which he played alongside bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler. The band’s sound was not set in stone and Weller’s ingenuity took the band to different musical places. They were a Punk Rock/New Wave band that revitalised the Mod scene, which had been laying dormant since the days of The Who and The Beatles.
I also began to explore his ever-expanding solo career, a cornucopia of New Wave/Punk Rock/Heavy Soul/Mod revival, which has existed from 1989 to the present day.
It has only been in the past half a decade (perhaps since I have matured as a man) that I have returned to listen to The Style Council, a Pop Rock/Jazz/Soul/New Wave band which Weller created alongside the talented keyboard player, Mick Talbot. Existing between The Jam and his solo career, some of Weller’s best lyrics are contained in the albums he and Talbot produced.
It was so difficult to choose just five lyrics from Weller’s mile-long list of work. What I have chosen are the lyrics that speak most to me. I have chosen also to stay between the times of The Jam and The Style Council. I’ve chosen to do this because Weller’s solo career is far from finished, so I could not possibly choose my Top 5 from a list that is still expanding.
“I was a shit-stained statue / School children would stand in awe / I truly believed I was a ceiling of sky / Never thought about having flaws.” (‘It Just Came To Pieces In My Hands’, The Style Council, 1984)
This song was released by the Style Council more-or-less at the height of their prominence. It discusses the nostalgic greatness of the British Empire. The simple, rough guitar provides the backbone to the song and Weller applies some reverb to this, giving some depth to the track and heightening the nostalgic lyrics.
The lyrics themselves discuss different aspects of the Empire, before almost sarcastically ripping the rug from beneath them. “I was a shit-stained statue” implies the implicit self-confidence and arrogance that perfectly sums up a minority of people who sit on the cultural and political right, wishing for the Empire to return. “Shit-stained” implies that the statue has been neglected and left for years. This tricolon points out that all the empire is good for now is for pigeons to shit on. It also alludes to the fact that British society believes the Empire was the penultimate achievement, but in fact it caused a great deal of suffering for many others in the colonies.
“[C]hildren would stand in awe” implies that the Empire now is just a subject that children learn about at school, but nothing else. It is not relevant to actual society at all. “I truly believed” provides this self-delusion that many people felt in the years after the Empire was deconstructed, following the Second World War. A “Ceiling of sky” is the base of cloud that covers more than half the sky, alluding to the span of the empire, from its creation in the late 16th Century, to its eventual demise in the mid-20th Century. But by calling it a cloud, Weller exposes its inner insecurities, false assertions, and shows how fragile the whole Empire was. He also alludes to how thin the Empire‘s claim over the land was.