Paul Westerberg – Stereo / Mono

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

Originally packaged with bonus album Mono (otherwise a standalone release under Westerberg’s Grandpaboy alias), Stereo was the great comeback album. Paul had been dropped by two major labels at this point and hadn’t released an album in three years; the stardom that people expected after the Replacements broke up never materialized. So he hunkered down in his basement – goodbye producers Brendan O’Brian, Lou Giordano, and Don Was – and recorded himself, mistakes and all, in the middle of the night. On his own schedule, in the Minnesota dark, with neither pride nor shame, Westerberg made a great album. And backed by the energetic, refreshing Mono, this is the highlight of Paul’s solo career.

What I Think of This Album

Stereo

The title deceptively suggests this is going to be full of the high-wire, beer-soaked rock from the heyday of the Replacements. In fact, this is mostly somber, reflective stuff (which was always the strongest aspect of his solo career anyway) – contemplative, rueful, resigned, sorrowful, and apprehensively grasping at wise.

Battling it out for the top spot here are self-abasing, ironic “Only Lie Worth Telling” and the elegiac, tentative anthem “We May Be the Ones.” The latter boasts careful lyrical details and a brilliantly balanced tone halfway between declaration and question, while the former communicates, with only a few repeated words, the conscious choice to prostrate oneself. Westerberg counsels the other other (and possibly abused) woman on “He’s Got You Down,” and “Boring Enormous” melodiously details the slow domestic death of a relationship over a series of acoustic guitar chords. I think “Baby Learns to Crawl” doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it is still a really good song, with a nice solo and an accordion in the background. “Dirt to Mud” is an acoustic number about survival and perseverance (that cuts off in the middle of a line).

“No Place For You” is sort of forgettable but nonetheless empathic (and continues a feminist streak that dates back to “A Little Mascara”). Existential observations are the name of the game on the delicate “Nothing to No One.” “Let the Bad Times Roll” is a dark admission of giving up, and relatively lush (re-la-tively) “Call That Gone?” is a humorous kiss-off. I can’t deny that “Mr. Rabbit” is super-charming, and the hidden ramshackle cover of Flesh for Lulu’s “Postcards From Paradise” is a wonderful treat.

Mono

Not exactly the Replacements redux people wanted either, it is instead a loose, ragged collection of riffy, Faces-inspired power-pop songs. Like Stereo, there is no polish here, and in fact, a couple of the songs could’ve used a little more work. But there is no denying this is a fun, uplifting album that scratches an itch many Westerberg fans had lived with for a long time.

“High Times” is affable and laid-back, riding a not-too-dirty riff. Things get a little grittier on “I’ll Do Anything.” Westerberg hits a jangly power-pop home run with the outstanding “Let’s Not Belong Together,” with a jumpy rockabilly-lite riff that sounds like every Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album blended together. Westerberg’s snide delivery well-serves the funny and sharp “Silent Film Star” : “You ought to be a silent film star / Keep that pretty little trap shut.” There isn’t much to “Knock It Right Out,” but it’s still a decent bit of filler that probably could’ve been something more. Paul slows down just a bit on the sweetly vulnerable “2 Days ‘Til Tomorrow,” which could’ve easily fit on Stereo and has a tidy little solo. I desperately wish Westerberg had put a little more effort into “Eyes Like Sparks,” which is basically just a short chorus repeated over and over and a riff, but shit – what a line (“Stay where you are / Baby, stay away from me / Your eyes like sparks / My heart like gasoline”) and the riff is one Keith Richards and Ronnie Lane would’ve arm-wrestled over.

“Footsteps” has a sort of Eastern guitar solo, but the vocal rhythm is a little annoying. “Kickin’ the Stall” never comes together but it isn’t bad; it is not the loud rocker the title implies. “Between Love and Like” is another power-pop nugget, orbiting around the twin suns of its riff and the bright chorus. And “AAA” is an obvious contender for best song on the album – an energetic, downcast jangle-fest. I think Westerberg has claimed he did this by himself, but supposedly, Tommy Stinson played bass (under the Zeke Pine pseudonym). The putative cover art here is even scarier than on Stereo.

The Best Thing About This Album

From Stereo, it’s “If not, then why are we here / Why the hell then are we here?” And from Mono, I have to give it to “Let’s not belong together.” That sounds wonderful.

Release Date

April, 2002

The Cover Art

Not a cover I really want to spend any time looking at. The font is okay, I guess.

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