Stephen T. Erlewine downloaded Paul Westerberg’s new eccentric album, 49:00, too
Although there are enough full-blown songs to anchor this album, much of the music here wouldn’t make sense on a proper album as it floats in and out of focus, sometimes overlapping with an existing tune, sometimes offering just a tantalizing flash of melody or formative riff. But far from being a frustrating collection of unfinished home demos, 49:00 plays as a complete work, where the raggedness is part of the point — and its coarse four-track surfaces feel defiant in an age of computer recording. There’s undeniably an element of ragged rebellion in the rough-hewn creation of 49:00 but Westerberg has always sounded best when he’s on the fringe — and while this was delivered in a high-tech fashion, the album, with all its unfinished surfaces and frayed fragments, is old-fashioned college rock filled with fragile ballads, rude rock & roll, dead-end detours, and smart-ass jokes, like the classic rock oldies Westerberg flips through at the end of the album. Of all of Westerberg’s solo albums, 49:00 comes closest to recapturing the spirit of the Replacements but it doesn’t do so by doggedly re-creating the ‘Mats’ drunken mess; instead, Westerberg reconnects to the joyous, reckless sense of adventure that fueled his earliest work, and by doing so his scruffiness is once again endearing and hard to resist.
Apparently, Amazon was the only online retailer that let Westerberg set the terms of download (49 minutes without track titles, breaks), and set his own price – 49¢. I got a chance to listen to the album finally, and I like it. You have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the oddness of it, especially when two different songs are playing at the same time from different speakers, once you can open your ears to non-standard compositions, the album makes a certain amount of sense.
On the other hand, if you are just playing the album as background, it seems kind of half-assed. Usually only the extended re-release of classic albums contains such material as song sketches, and unfinished bits. A bit disconcerting to listen to song fragments of songs you’ve never heard before. Maybe I should put mine together, and release it on an album? What do you think, would you pay 49¢ to listen to nearly an hour of various bits of music I made?