In his eclectic 40-year career Paul Weller has shown a growing willingness to experiment with different genres. His previous album Saturns Pattern (2015) was his most adventurous yet, but his new one takes him into completely new territory: Jawbone is Weller’s first film score. (The Style Council’s Have You Ever Had It Blue? written for the 1986 film musical Absolute Beginners was just a standalone song.)
The film itself (released on 12 May) is directed by Thomas Napper and written by Johnny Harris, who stars in the semi-autobiographical story of a former youth boxing champion Jimmy McCabe making a belated comeback: “a man searching for hope but looking in all the wrong places”. Several of the seven tracks on the album include snippets of the film’s dialogue but Weller himself only sings on only three of them. This is the Modfather as you’ve never heard him before.
The epic, fragmented 21-minute opener Jimmy/Blackout – which takes up more than half the album – is the most experimental track and the closest Weller has come to making ambient music. Its sombre, dissonant soundscape sets the tone for a desperate tale, featuring mournful strings, droning guitar, swirling synthesisers and choral harmonies. Weller’s own vocal only arrives a few minutes from the end, sounding much more other-worldly than usual as he sings “It takes a strong mind to battle through”.
In complete contrast, The Ballad Of Jimmy McCabe is a recognisably Wellersque acoustic folk song full of melancholy yearning: “I’ll beat my head ’til dawn / Figure out what I’m running from / Only then will I find peace in me.” The two-minute-long Bottle has a similarly mellow vibe, as he asks “Where is the man I was?” with tender regret.
The other tracks are basically instrumentals that follow the film’s emotional journey. The title track is a psyched-up piece with fuzzy wah-wah guitar that plays with different sounds coming out of each speaker. Man On Fire is a very short mood-setter with dirge-like strings and minor-key piano.
Jawbone Training is a percussive, heart-pounding number that reflects the mounting tension building up to the big fight. And End Fight Sequence also has an insistent beat, as well as a static-like guitar sound and a few echoes of the opening track, as the fighter enters his final round.
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