Picks and Pans Review: 14 Songs
As leader and chief songwriter of the Replacements, one of the best American bands of the '80s, Westerberg delivered chaotic garage rock with a surprisingly tender heart. Critics lauded the Minneapolis quartet's albums; Westerberg won songwriting awards and was lionized as a kind of post-punk Holden Caulfield, the bad boy who might drink you out of house and home but would never (intentionally) break your heart—heady stuff for a kid who quit high school to front a rock and roll band.
But after eight albums (none gold or platinum), the Replacements dissolved in 1991. Now come the solo albums: earlier this year from bassist Tommy Stinson, recently from drummer Chris Mars and, currently, the big one, from guitarist and singer Westerberg. Stacked up against the Replacements' catalog, it sounds pretty damn good. Not that Westerberg doesn't coast. The jangling rocker "Dice Behind Your Shades" is little more than "When It Began" (from 1990's All Shook Down) redux, while "Silver Naked Ladies" and "Mannequin Shop" are, respectively, bogus bar boogie and cutesy fluff.
But when Westerberg hits, he does so with a vengeance. On the searing "World Class Fad," he fires satirical missiles at the post-punk scene, strafing the mix with twisted guitar riffs that would make the late Johnny Thunders proud. Yet, as with the Replacements, Westerberg's strength lies in his weaknesses; he remains a true romantic and wears his yearning like a badge of honor. It's apparent on the acoustic "Even Here We Are," which says more by trying less, on the country-tinged "Things" and especially on the aching "First Glimmer." In this song Westerberg looks over his shoulder at love, and in invoking the tastes and sights and smells of a relationship back in the haze and sweat of punk's nascent days, he comes as close as a skinny white boy from Minneapolis can to being a soul man. (Sire/Reprise)