Paul Weller, with more years and nearly as many albums in his solo career as in The Jam and Style Council combined, has always had some surprises handy, and even his more rock-focused albums have tended to have some detours. With Sonik Kicks, though, he tests even his aesthetic flexibility. The album mixes as many influences as Weller’s ever pulled together. At its best, the album maintains a high level of excitement and energy, but at times the twists give it a manic side that doesn’t quite pull together.
Weller pushes the electronic sounds, frequently building mildly abrasive textures and agitating the music. The tones pair well with the song structures, which resist typical pop forms. Opener “Green,” for example, chugs along while Weller delivers almost spoken-word lyrics, occasionally cut by guitar runs or electronic surges before turning into a more meditative series of bloops. That track might have German influences, but “Drifters” reaches into India, enough so that the arrival of a sitar wouldn’t be surprising (especially if it were a synthesized version). When Weller sings, “Even drifters stop sometimes,” it’s a little hard to believe him.
The genre- and nation-hopping of the album shouldn’t suggest dilettantism. Weller sounds utterly committed to each cut, largely because of the consistent intensity of the performance, even on the less uptempo numbers. The Syd Barrett-inspired number “When Your Garden’s Overgrown” fittingly has touches of the Flaming Lips, and Weller injects his personality into the song’s quirky pop sound. “Paper Chase” tones down the album a little, but Weller’s brand of softness in the verses preserves the disc’s vigor. Closer “Be Happy Children” offers the most straightforward pop of the album, a gentle mid-tempo track with a catchy chorus and mild electronic swells. It’s a strange piece to end on given the album’s explorations, but it might make for a comfortable place to settle on.
If it does, it’s one of the few places that’s true. While the innovation is rewarding, the album’s scattershot approach limits its effectiveness. The wealth of ideas works, but the inconsistency of the disc does. In particular, the instrumental segues “Sleep of the Serene” and “Twilight” drag the album down with their underdeveloped sound. The theatrical sound of “By the Waters” works well and aptly showcases Weller’s voices, but it’s one of the album’s odder moments. A few of these sorts of moments can make a disc intriguing, but too many hide creative bounty in a sense of disarray. Sonik Kicks stays right at that line, but teeters just enough to keep it from realizing the artistic success that it approaches.