How to Write a Paul Westerberg CD Review in Three Easy Steps: 1. Give the former Replacements main man credit where it's due: The 'Mats were crucial, and the man's place in the rock & roll pantheon is established. 2. Say the album is OK, but far from his former glory -- you don't want to trash the man, but you also don't want to be caught holding the bag when this one tanks. 3. Make an impassioned plea for a Replacements reunion tour: This one's a gimme, and a reunion could help get Tommy Stinson away from Axl Rose. (Adapted from How to Write a Frank Black CD Review in Three Easy Steps.)
Yes, I'm being willfully, pathetically ironic with the preceding, but the steps aren't too far off. Westerberg's latest is culled from the documentary of the same name, and these fourteen new tracks pick up on some of the strengths of his previous double-disc, Stereo/Mono. He's still gritty and ragged, and it still sounds like he can write these catchy, head-shaking numbers in his sleep. It just doesn't sound like he woke up enough to sing them.
Westerberg sounds like he's having a pretty good time on this record, toying around with styles and being a bit bolder with his inspirations. "My Daydream" starts with a gorgeous chord build-up à la "Dream Lover" and retains a bit of that '50s doo-wop vibe. He even tosses in a cover of Jackson Browne's "These Days," and its reflective, clean-and-sober theme is fitting enough for a man whose thirst for the drink is well documented. Still, you can't help but wonder if he learned it after hearing Nico's version in The Royal Tenenbaums like the rest of us did.
If this record were to fall out of the sky, its singer would be heralded as the next Ryan Adams, a genius who hits the high points of American music with a bit of sloppy bravado. But as a Paul Westerberg record, it's mostly enjoyable but rarely exciting.