Paul Westerberg/Grandpa Boy – Stereo/Mono (Vagrant)
Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit
Your coat is mighty gray
Yeah, bless God it’s made that way.
Every little soul must shine
Every little soul must shine.
—Paul Westerberg – “Mr. Rabbit”
There’s always been two sides to Paul Westerberg (and The Replacements), and with this 2-cd release we get both sides in one package. The burnout philosopher and gentleman junkie of songs like “Skyway,” “Swingin’ Party” and “Androgynous,” and the screaming rabble-rouser from such fist-pumpers as “Gary’s Got A Boner,” “Bastards Of Young” and “Red Red Wine.” Now the sides are clearly split—the two discs are called Stereo (by Paul Westerberg) and Mono (by Grandpa Boy). And both sides have grown a bit wiser.
On Stereo, Westerberg works hard at grasping the brilliant, melancholy hooks he used to toss off without thinking during the glory years of The Replacements. And for the most part he succeeds, but it does seem like he’s had to go twice as far to the well and maybe didn’t bring up as much as he used to.
That’s the only bad thing I can say about this home-recorded disc full of, as the liner notes say, “tape running out, fluffed lyrics, flat notes extraneous noises, etc.” Ultimately, though, it¹s a fascinating musical document, and well worth the listen. Clunky and flawed, Westerberg makes no effort to polish the finished product and you have to love him for that. Written and recorded at home and cut live, these tracks grow on you like some kind of musical Chia Pet. You can’t enjoy them nearly as much on the first listen, but by the second or third listen they’re getting into your bloodstream.
The only exception to the above is the 11th track, “Mr. Rabbit,” which everyone should rush out and listen to right now. It’s got a first-rate pop guitar hook you will want to play to over and over again, just to hear Westerberg belt out the chorus, “Every little soul must shine.” This is perfection, and Westerberg’s best single track in years.
Mono, the Grandpa Boy (Westerberg’s alter ego) cd, is full of straight-ahead rockers, all recorded in glorious mono. It’s good stuff, bluesy and raw, and as Westerberg says in his liner notes, “This is rock ‘n roll recorded poorly, played in a hurry, with sweaty hands and unsure reason.” It is indeed, and a lot of fun to listen to. Here Westerberg reminds us why he remains rock’s holy fool, doing stupid shit that would get anybody else nailed to the wall, like mid-song tempo changes and ending songs by just stopping cold. And he has a good time doing it, too.
Taken together, these cds nicely illustrate the one-two punch of a legendary rocker who’s always been something of a musical dichotomy: half bittersweet poet and half anarchist rock agitator. On Stereo/Mono, the two halves seem to be closer than ever to becoming a whole.
MP3s are available from Vagrant.