Left of the dial: Paul Westerberg's 49:00
- August 12, 2008 12:32 PM |
- By Arts Online
Illustration by Jillian Tamaki
Just when I thought I’d finally gotten over my Paul Westerberg crush, a friend told me the former Replacements frontman had quietly released an online-only album a few weeks ago. Entitled 49:00, Westerberg’s latest, self-produced effort is being sold on Amazon.com for the nifty price of 49 cents.
At first, I thought this bargain-bin approach must be a joke – this was, after all, an artist who once recorded a Dylan homage called Like A Rolling Pin. The cover art for 49:00, written in a child’s scrawl and tricked out with a TDK logo to make it look like a cruddy, vintage mix tape, did nothing to dispel my suspicions. But I’ll be damned if 49:00 (which actually runs for 43-and-change lo-fi minutes), isn’t the most rousing, hell-raising thing Westerberg’s recorded since somewhere back in his mid-’80s prime.
It’s difficult to discuss the album in terms of precise tracks, because Westerberg has served it up as one long, uninterrupted, 43-minute mp3 (another joke, perhaps?), where little snippets of songs overlap, interrupt, circle back to each other, and where one piece bleeds, with the help of a lot of feedback, into the next. The overall effect is like listening to a teenaged boy with ADD take control of your radio dial.
So 49:00 is indeed a mix tape, but one filled with so much sonic experimentation, I’m sorry it isn’t available on the shelves at regular music stores. Within this one long track, you can distinguish anywhere between 18 and 20 mini-tracks, none of them titled, and many of them featuring the shambling guitars, story-song lyrics and junkyard-dog cries that Westerberg was known for in his Replacements heyday. In fact, the opener, an upbeat little number called (I think) Terri, Who You Gonna Marry?, recalls some of the sunniest singles on one of The Replacements best albums, Tim.
One standout is the track that appears somewhere around the 30-minute mark – an insistent, lust-fuelled number called (again, I think) C’mon Be My Darlin’, in which the narrator pleads with a girl to succumb to his amorous advances. With its combination of Westerberg’s vintage wail, heart-stopping lyrics (“Kiss your lashes/breathe your air”) and wonky, loop-de-loop guitars, this song deserves to be heard blasting out of convertible speakers this summer, and should be required make-out music for horny teenagers everywhere.
It’s no accident that C’mon Be My Darlin’ kicks off with Westerberg emitting a random shout of “Let it go!” The entire album feels the act of a musician who’s liberating himself and relishing every minute of letting loose. Throughout 49:00, Westerberg takes real (near-crazy) risks, playing with sounds, smushing them together, as if to see what two melodies will sound like when they collide.
Which brings me to 49:00’s final “track,” a mashed-up medley of covers, inserted in the middle of a Westerberg original. He races at breakneck speed through fragments of The Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye, Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild, Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock, pauses to deliver the rocking-est take ever on the Partridge Family’s I Think I Love You and finally closes out with a genuine, hand-clapping, beer-bottle-stomping tune of his own. Westerberg bangs out (or maybe feels his way through) a song that is as messy, brash and rebellious as anything he ever recorded in his youth. It could become a rec-room-party anthem along the lines of Bastards of the Young. Now, all people have to do is go online to discover it for themselves.
-- Lee Ferguson
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