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Album Review

Paul Westerberg's best work has always been about passion as much as craft, and that's been the biggest sticking point with his post-Replacements solo career. From a strictly technical standpoint, his work on 14 Songs and Eventually was superior to the stuff he wrote for Hootenanny or Sorry, Ma, Forgot to Take out the Trash, but there was a heart, soul, and emotional intensity in his loud, fast, and sloppy rock & roll that was absent from the output of "Paul Westerberg, Professional Songwriter." To many fans, the trouble seemed to be that Westerberg just didn't feel like rocking out, but the lower-key Suicaine Gratifaction made clear that wasn't the only problem; while that album was a step in the right direction, much of it still sounded like Westerberg was writing to order, and the album's calm surface sounded just a bit forced. Dropped by his second major label and left to his own devices, Westerberg recorded Stereo in his basement, mostly in the middle of the night and with Westerberg providing all of the (minimal and mostly acoustic) musical accompaniment through the miracle of overdubbing. And for whatever reason, Stereo is the first Westerberg solo disc that captures the elusive feel and emotional resonance of his best Replacements tunes; no, it doesn't rock, but if you loved the side of Paul Westerberg that came up with stuff like "Within Your Reach," "If Only You Were Lonely," or "Here Comes a Regular," the good news is he's found a way to tap back into that mindset and he's captured it on tape. The Westerberg who wrote Stereo is older, wiser, and wearier than the kid who made Let It Be, but he still hasn't quite figured out the details of love, relationships, and how to make all of that stuff work, and he has plenty to say about the subject that's funny, heartbreaking, and straight from the gut. With more than its share of flubbed notes and technical mistakes (two songs are cut short when the tape runs out and Westerberg's young son makes an unscheduled appearance on "We May Be the Ones") and occasional goofs (most notably the cover of "Mr. Rabbit"), Stereo seems a bit less than polished or professional, but it always sounds like it comes straight from Paul Westerberg's heart and that's what really makes the difference. It's an inspiring return to form from one of rock's best songwriters, and proves his muse still visits on occasion — good news for all. [The initial pressings of Stereo also include Mono, the lo-fi rock album from Westerberg's nom de basement side project, Grandpaboy, which plays faster, looser, and a lot louder than Stereo, but still maintains many of the same virtues; they're two very different albums, but are well matched in this package.]


Born: 31 December 1959 in Minneapolis, MN

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

After disbanding the Replacements in 1991, singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg resurfaced the following year with two songs on the Singles soundtrack. A year later, Westerberg released his first solo album, 14 Songs, in the summer of 1993. Although the record received generally positive reviews and spawned the modern rock hit "World Class Fad," the album failed to break the songwriter into the mainstream. Three years later, Westerberg released his second solo album, Eventually. Like 14 Songs and the...
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Stereo, Paul Westerberg
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