Holy Crap! When did Paul Westerberg turn into Robert Pollard? And why didn't I get the memo? You'd think that there would have at least been an announcement on the Skyway mailing list. You know, something like "Mr. Paul Westerberg would like to announce that he's going to start taking career cues from Robert Pollard, releasing disc after disc consisting mainly of first-take lo-fi home recordings under his own name and at least one pseudonym. Mr. Pollard is reported to be flattered and will continue to base his stage persona on The Replacements."
Ahh, The Replacements. The perfect combination of heart, balls and brains. One of the greatest bands ever. Hanging like a shadow over everything that Paul Westerberg will ever do. It's not fair, really not to Paul, not to those of us who loved the 'mats with the fury of a thousand white-hot suns and watched them just dissolve under the pressure of being called the greatest rock 'n' roll band of their time while also being called the greatest fuck-ups of their time. Paul put out a series of solo albums that were increasingly long on brains, but short on everything else. Then came last year, and the awesome Stereo/Mono, where the heart and balls took over, and as an extra added bonus, Paul reminded us why he's also one of the greatest rock 'n' roll singers ever.
Released as kind of a companion to a DVD (of his already-legendary-to-Replacements-fans 2002 solo tour) of the same name, Come Feel Me Tremble is a bit of a mess, like they stuck the disc on a wall and threw the songs at it. (For those of you living in the Bay Area, it's kind of like the way the post-fire houses in the Oakland hills look as if they were just randomly tossed onto the hillside.) But you could say the same thing for Hootenanny, and to me this captures a bit of the same magic. As in that classic, while the songs don't really hang well together, they certainly hang well separately. And I certainly prefer this approach to his approach during the 1990s, when he didn't record many albums and put too much thought into each one. I think that Paul is at his best when he leads with his guts and doesn't overthink what he's doing.
As always, I gravitate to some of the riff-rockers like "Making Me Go," "My Daydream" and fuzzed-out Stonesy death trip "Pine Box," but note that, as per usual, there are a couple of downtempo numbers that work as well the aching "Meet Me Down in the Alley," and the plaintive "What a Day (For a Night)." And his cover of Jackson Browne's "These Days" is just exquisite. I also love the two new additions to all of his great pills & booze songs the inadvertant Rush Limbaugh anthem "Hillbilly Junk" ("Gonna get higher/ On that hillbilly junk"), and "Knockin' Em Back" ("I'm drinking once again/ Just to make them pills kick in"), which features a sly Dylan reference on the chorus.
Finally, there are two versions of the Sylvia Plath-quoting "Crackle & Drag," a sad, hauntingly melodic version, and a screamy vocal rocking original take, which barely sounds like the same song but has been waking me up in the middle of the night ringing in my head.
None of this is as life-saving as The Replacements once were, but a couple of decades down the road, I don't need my life saved by music anymore. All I need is new records to affirm how much music still means to me. New records like this one.