Picture swiped from the Unoffical Paul Westerberg Home Page, taken by Bob Hyland.
Well, that's nice, JB, but when are you going to spout off about Paul Westerberg's albums like you promised?
Wait no more. Paul's latest, released as a twofer with its immediate predecessor, which initially saw print under his secret-to-nobody nom de guerre "Grandpaboy" is titled Stereo/Mono. Or it's called simply, "Stereo", with a bonus disc enclosed which just happens to be the Grandpaboy album "Mono". Or whatever. Of course, Westerberg came to notoriety, if not necessarily fame, with his previous band, the raucous, too-punky-to-be-Rock and too-rockish-to-be-Punk Replacements. At first, the 'Mats specialized in arrogant, goofy, snotty, who-gives-a-fuck rock n' roll, but then Paul realized he had a knack for writing aching, lovely ballads, often with a slight countryish twang, which made all the critics sit up and pay attention. After that, the 'Mats and Paul's rep grew, often considered by many to be the Stones to R.E.M.'s Alternative Beatles, and they released three classic LPs (Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased To Meet Me) followed by two vaguely disappointing ones (Don't Tell A Soul, the almost-Paul-solo All Shook Down). Eventually, the band seemed to tire of courting fame one minute and running away from it the next and the loud, sloppy rollercoaster ride eventually ground to a halt in 1991. He went solo, like everybody thought he would years before, and released two overproduced, compromised-sounding albums for Warners which absolutely no one liked and fewer heard, let alone bought. His biggest problem, it seems, is that it was no longer 1985 and people expected something more from someone with his obvious gifts, but nobody knew what. Paul himself, to me, sounded confused, like he didn't know how to do anything else but what he did and couldn't make people like it. He was let go by Warners/Sire, and signed to Capitol records a while later. I thought his next album, 1996's Suicane Gratifaction was a remarkable effort, all things considered...full of more great lyrics and melodies that the last two albums combined. It even survived the heavy hand of Uberproducer Don Was. Most disagreed with me, and the album was a flop, but I for one was very encouraged. Westerberg was let go by Capitol shortly thereafter, and emerged not long after with a sloppy indie record, the first under the pseudonym Grandpaboy. While it wasn't bad, and certainly rawer than his previous solo stuff, it was still lacking that certain something.
Now, this past year, he's resurfaced with the aforementioned double CD set. Strangely enough, the Mono half is the most developed, features a full band, and rocks the hardest. Stereo basically sounds like a set of demo recordings, with minimal accompaniment. I found myself wanting to take the two discs and shuffle them together like cards, to get a mix of styles. I might still do this with the ol' CD burner. There are great songs on both discs, and Paul sounds more confident than he has in ages, if still a bit petulant and glum. I especially love "Silent Film Star" and the opener "High Time". Stereo has its share of nice songs, but they're so underdeveloped that it becomes a bit annoying. I liked the cover of "Mr. Rabbit", and a couple of others like "No Place For You" stand out as well. If you're curious, and you are predisposed to like the Replacements, then by all means check this one out. I seriously doubt that it will sell any better than its predecessors, or will even win him many new fans. I like it, but I'm one of the converted. Typically, one wishes for a lot more but I for one am glad Westerberg still cares enough to make the effort. We may never get another Tim, but those only come along every so often anyway.