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Paul Weller

Illumination (Yep Roc)

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Hailed as a demigod in his native Britain, former Jam/Style Council frontman Paul Weller can hardly get arrested on our shores -- his last studio album, 2000's rather dour Heliocentric, didn't even merit a U.S. release. Hopefully all that will change with the release of Weller's latest solo effort, Illumination, which debuted at No. 1 on the U.K. charts in late 2002.

Easily the most satisfying album of his decade-plus solo career, Illumination marks the first time in ages that Weller has sounded at ease in his own skin: mellow and upbeat, yet aggressive and gritty in all the right places. Weller's voice has aged like fine whiskey -- smooth, yet biting -- and his songwriting skills have never been sharper. The soulful guitar rock is touched with sparks of invention -- a sampled horn track here, a backwards tape effect there -- that keep the proceedings from getting stale, as do guest appearances from Stereophonics' Kelly Jones, Oasis's Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer, and others. Innovative in all the right places, yet as immediately comfortable as a favorite denim jacket (and also including three bonus tracks and a five-track DVD), Illumination should please old fans and, if there's any justice in the musical universe, make Weller some new ones.

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