Twenty-five years ago, The Jam ignited the British punk and new wave scene on the strength of Paul Weller's incendiary lyrical rants.
Since that seminal band's demise, Weller has gone on to create music that is just as inspiring, if somewhat less thrilling.
Illumination, Weller's accomplished new album, proves that the singer/songwriter finally has found his niche in soft, soulful rock.
The touchstone is the bluesy tinge of 1993's superb Wild Wood, which brought Weller back to the forefront of British music.
But instead of effortlessly tossing off electrifying rock jams as he has in the past, on Illumination Weller finds a gentler, more introspective mood.
Through the album's 13 tracks -- and three U.S. bonus tracks -- Weller's voice and acoustic guitar barely rise above whispers. Only the searing "A Bullet for Everyone" and the raspy "Call Me No. 5," a duet with the Stereophonics' Kelly Jones, show the soul man in typical, riffing form.
While this is a somewhat disappointing change, repeated plays reveal Weller's newfound confidence and direction.
Fans, no doubt, will miss the explosiveness of his solo classics "Sunflower" and "The Changingman," but the loss at least partially is made up for through Weller's personal revelations.
Where Weller once used his lyrics to talk himself through personal doubts, he now examines the troubles of the world with a reverence that borders on gospel.
The elegiac "All Good Books" calls for world peace, referencing the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad.
And for the first time, he approaches his own life with a religious seriousness. In "Who Brings Joy," obviously a love song to his wife, Weller sings, "Love you I must/ Compelled by God/ Or some invisible force."
Likewise, the sampled horns of "It's Written In The Stars" give way to Weller's admission that love must be determined by fate.
Elsewhere, Weller preaches the hippie aesthetics of peace, love and harmony in less pious terms.
On the luminous "One x One," he invites us to release love into the world before his murky voice rises from the chiming chorus and demands listeners "fear only the lies you're fed."
But the majority of the album is built upon smooth, acoustic love songs. While this approach makes for a moody, cohesive listen, it's easy for the listener to lose interest in the individual tracks.
But with such strong material as the breezy "Going Places" and the enchanting "Standing Out In The Universe," it's difficult to fault Weller for his laid-back style.
It's only on "Leafy Mysteries" that Weller's neo-soul man routine wears thin.
The title hints at the truly magical, but the only mystery revealed is the aimlessness of the track's melodic lines and shifting keys.
But this misstep isn't enough to assert that the 44-year-old Weller is headed for geriatric-rock dustbins yet.
As long as he's working with solid material, like most of what inhabits Illumination, he's got at least a few years and a few more good albums before his act gets tired.
Though there's no song here that usurps those on the powerful Wild Wood or Modern Classics, his 1998 greatest hits compilation, Illumination is enough to keep fans hanging on to Weller's blend of heavy soul and rock 'n' roll for the time being.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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