Paul Westerberg – Folker

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

This marked the end of Westerberg’s DIY time on Vagrant, which was overall very satisfying even if not commercially successful. Ever ornery and unpredictable, Westerberg subsequently wrote songs for an animated children’s movie no one saw (Open Season – though I’ve read that the songs are really good), and then released 49:00, a digital, roughly 44 minute single track album with no song titles that sold for $.49 – it was almost immediately pulled due to copyright issues with the final “song,” a medley of snippets of covers (Beatles, Stones, Elton John, etc.) for which Westerberg had not secured any rights. He reunited with Tommy Stinson for a victory lap as the Replacements in the 2010s, and then in 2016, collaborated with Juliana Hatfield in the very Westerbergian-named the I Don’t Cares. I am chronologically out of order with this, but I need to state that he released a “Best of” collection titled Besterberg and then a short rarities comp called The Resterberg, and those album titles makes me laugh so much.

What I Think of This Album

The old self-sabotage of Westerberg’s Replacements days (e.g., lighting their per diem cash on fire; swearing on their most high-profile live tv performance) is in full view with his decision to open this album with the deliriously stupid “Jingle.” Supposedly intended to be licensed to big-box retailers, the best thing I can say about it is that it is melodic and includes a reference to Ringo. Beyond that, Folker is very much in the vein of Come Feel Me Tremble, both in that it’s just Paul alone in his basement and also in that he throws a bunch of stuff at the wall and we’re left to figure out what sticks. This ends up being another pretty good collection, though you come away wondering if maybe he could just try a bit harder (and also, find a drummer, please).

“My Dad” is a sweet tribute to his father, as is, I assume, “Lookin’ Up In Heaven.” The first is full of carefully observed details, and ends with a repeated “my dad I love,” and the other is easily something that could’ve been on Don’t Tell a Soul. Paul sounds a bit creaky on “Anyway’s All Right,” but this is a finely turned bittersweet song (that references “I Will Dare”). “As Far As I Know” is another Westerberg classic that ranks among his best solo work. My personal favorite is “How Can You Like Him?,” with a desperate, yearning performance from Paul. You say this is self-pitying and pathetic (“How can you like him / Better than me?”), and I say it is the story of my life and go fuck yourself, and who’s to say we can’t both be right? “What About Mine?” achieves poignancy with a gentle descending melody, and “Breathe Some New Life” is also pretty good. The Faces-like rocker “Gun Shy” sounds like a lost track from Mono; the lyric “I’m a jack rabbit / Rock star / Fruit jar / Fuck you” always makes me cheer. Some missteps include the bad joke of “$100 Groom” and the annoying “Folk Star,” but these are easily offset even by the lesser good songs like “Now I Wonder.”

The Best Thing About This Album

The chorus of “How Can You Like Him” will be engraved on my tombstone. Except that I’m not going to have a tombstone.

Release Date

September, 2004

The Cover Art

By a mile, the best album cover of Paul’s solo career. It is vaguely reminiscent of an old Blue Note release, but with a tenth the style and effort (those iconic jazz albums were designed by Reid Miles using photographs by label co-founder Francis Wolff).

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