Last Saturday, former Replacements leader Paul Westerberg was supposed to release his new album on his website. The catch was that it was supposed to be forty-nine minutes of music (it’s actually 43:55! Go figure!) for a low, low price of forty-nine cents, in celebration of June 49th. (In case you are wondering, that’s July 19th.) Something in the plan must’ve hit a snag because the album wasn’t up for download until Monday, but it is now available for just under two quarters as promised.
The record is one massive track containing what would amount to many different songs if there were indeed traditional track divisions. They fade in and out of each other with bizarre frequency. Once you get used to something, something else comes in on top of it and smothers it. The effect can be maddening. It’s as if someone left the radio station in the not so capable hands of Skippy the Intern. Occasionally different songs are played at the same time out of different speakers. Truth be told though, this is really an enjoyable experiment. Westerberg is able to prove that he hasn’t mellowed and he can still be sonically unruly. It’s well worth the price. Any fan of the Replacements or Westerberg’s edgier solo material (like let’s say his Grandpaboy alter-ego) should find something to enjoy here. It all sounds as if it was recorded in his basement, and I have to say, there is something refreshing about someone like Westerberg still jamming out like a kid in his parents’ garage. Too many of his contemporaries have mellowed and honed their productions into blandness. This record is anything but bland and uninteresting.
It’s almost like it has a progression based on clarity. It gets messier as more time passes.
It opens with Westerberg singing “Terri, Terri, who you gonna marry?” singing as a jilted ex-lover who has just learned his ex is engaged. The song sounds like it would’ve fit on his “Come Feel Me Tremble” album. In fact, most of this record feels like “Come Feel Me Tremble” without a rulebook. The first few songs are clear-cut songs. The second song sounds like an upbeat answer to the Replacements’ classic “Skyway.”
When he sings “something in my life is missing by a mile” on the third song, it’s apparent that he hasn’t lost his clever, dark edge. Any fan of Ryan Adams’ “Rock and Roll” should take note.
The man in jail singing the country blues on the forth song is anxiously awaiting “visitor’s day” when he hopes to see his children. Westerberg sings this song with a winking tongue-in-cheek sensibility. It’s after this track, the mix begins to evolve into snippets and little freak-outs. On a punked-up number he sings a lyric that is hard to make out but sounds like “Devil Ray’s a good boy.” It’s a hard-rocking standout.
For a few seconds he then sings, “you’re my girl,” before chiming into a very catchy refrain of “Everyone’s stupid in my family.” (It’s really way catchier than it should be!)
A few evolutions down the line, Westerberg sings a softer song about a son watching his dying father’s morphine drip. Throughout this track, things really become unraveled when other songs continually try to unsuccessfully interrupt the flow. Many people may not be able to handle the multiple songs playing at once.
Another highlight is when Westerberg sings “gotta get it out of my system.” In another life, this could’ve been a single, as would it’s equally appealing follow-up, on which he sings, “come on, be my darlin’.”
Westerberg sings “I’m clean, I’m clean, I’m clean” with a celebratory gladness. This section of the record also stands as a highpoint.
Towards the end of the record, he tries out a few covers (if for only a few seconds at a time.) Within about a minute or so, he plays bits of the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye,” Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild,” Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” and others before settling on a surprisingly awesome rendition of the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.”
The record ends with what sounds like a child screaming incoherent phrases over a hand-clapping garage-rock jam. Westerberg can be heard whispering something underneath. It’s an oddly fitting close.
Nothing about this record is easy. Sometimes it’s exceedingly difficult, but maybe that’s why listening to it is such a liberating experience. Nothing is clean cut. It’s good old fashioned, messy, rebellious rock and roll. With “49:00,” Westerberg proves that he is still not only interesting, but a decent songwriter as well. If you can get past the album’s mish-mash construction, you should be highly satisfied. If you can’t, you’ve been spoon-fed by the radio too long and should widen your horizons. It may be messy and loud, but it’s the best bit of entertainment I’ve ever gotten for a mere forty-nine cents.
Why is everything so focused on the number forty-nine? According to both imdb.com and allmusic.com, Westerberg was born on December 31, 1959. Perhaps his approaching forty-ninth birthday is the source. In any case, whatever the inspiration, this was a worthy and economical experiment.