Paul Weller has produced live albums and compilations galore. Even if you completely ignore the work of his two seminal bands the Jam and the Style Council, you can still overwhelm yourself with hit singles, rarities, and deep cuts from a solo career that has spanned 27 years and counting. Stepping back and taking stock, it’s easy to think that Weller has gone and done it all. Keep in mind, the Britpop legend once wrote a song giving voice to his concerns that he was running out of ideas — back in 1993. Since then, Weller has been just as prodigious as prolific, and each new solo offering bears a mark of freshness that we have all come to take for granted from him. Does this mean that the live album Other Aspects: Live at the Royal Festival Hall is worth your time and devotion? To answer that, we need to backtrack to the previous calendar year, when Paul Weller released the rather subdued True Meanings.
True Meanings was a very subtle album. PopMatters’ own Chris Ingalls proclaimed it an “instantly satisfying work”. Familiarizing yourself with Weller’s relaxed approach to his latest batch of songs will help orient you for Other Aspects, seeing as how a whopping 11 of True Meanings‘ 14 songs made their way into the evening’s program. In combination with the London Metropolitan Orchestra, Weller and his touring band bring the lounge vibes to the stage with great ease and professionalism. The remaining 14 songs on the double live album feel less like a stroll through memory lane than just ways to complement these new songs. For some context, only three songs represent the Jam (12%), two for the Style Council (8%), and nine for the remainder of Paul Weller’s long solo career (36%). If you think that seems a little lopsided, you can bet your peacock suit that the modfather doesn’t care.
Including “Private Hell” or “Tales from the Riverbank” may sound kitschy or odd, but they serve a greater purpose in the hands of Weller and the orchestra. You could probably convince a newcomer that “Boy About Town” was meant to sound this way, with its leisurely mid-tempo strings and effortless vocals. It’s less of a stretch to imagine the Latin-peppered “Have You Ever Had It Blue” in this environment. Deep cuts from Weller’s back catalog like “Where’er Ye Go”, “One Bright Star”, “Strange Museum”, “Country”, “Hopper”, and “You Do Something to Me” have been patiently waiting for their moment in the spotlight, and on Other Aspects, they shine just as brightly in orchestral splendor as their newly minted brethren.
It would probably be easier to mention which songs from True Meanings that were not performed that evening. They are “Bowie”, “Wishing Well”, and “Come Along”. As you might expect, the remaining 11 songs haven’t gone through any radical rearrangements. If one were to look at Other Aspects in a practical light, the case could be made that the double live album shifts focus to great acoustically-minded numbers like “Books” and “Gravity”. If you’re one of those “Boo!-Just-play-the-hits” fans (and face it, would you be one if you were interested in this recording?), then you’re out of luck with Other Aspects, Live at the Royal Festival Hall. This is a double album for the curious Weller fan, the one who outgrew punk alongside their idol and can appreciate the hush of maturity.