Jul 232008

In a move that happened too fast for most online music news sources to notice, Paul Westerberg released a new, online-only album today, 49:00, for only 49 cents.

Follow the relevant link on the fan site Man Without Ties for the details. At this point, it’s available from Amazon.com and something called Tunecore.com, apparently the only sites that would agree to the 49-cents thing.

Of course, with Westerberg there’s a catch. You get all the songs in one big MP3 file, and no indication of song titles. (Although another fan site made pretty good guesses.)

There’s plenty of other curve balls. Firstly, it’s only 43:55 minutes. 49:00 at times sounds a bit like an old TDK blank tape he saw fit to cram with as many songs and scraps as he could on one side. Some songs begin just before the prior ones abruptly end. Occasional six-second splurges of unrelated songs bridge one “proper” song to the next. You might think this is Westerberg being lazy, but I don’t.

Like everything he’s released this decade, except the Open Season soundtrack, this album is a one-man-band-in-his-basement affair. When he first unveiled this new direction, on 2002’s awesome Stereo/Mono, he seemed to hit upon way to treat lo-fi as a sonic value. It’s as if he realized he could get a better, more unique sound on his own, with rudimentary engineering skills. Rather than hire a bunch of session hands to try and fail to re-create, say, the classic Stones sound, he himself tried and failed to re-create the classic Stones sound. In the process, he found a cool sound all his own.

Based on one listen, 49:00 could be the next step for Westerberg’s evolving aesthetic. The album functions equally well as an endearingly sloppy take on Let it Bleed and Gasoline Alley, or a musique concrete deconstruction of itself.

My take on Westerberg, which has no basis in any real interaction with the man, is that he’s a lot like Neil Young: A curmudgeonly control-freak perfectionist who wants, no demands, that things sound messy. He wants that off-the-cuff one-take vibe, and has little or no compunction about dropping your ass if you can’t supply it. I’ll admit, it can provide a listener with a severe case of cognitive dissonance at times. But it also allows him to tap into that devil-may-care, funny streak that made The Replacements so endearing to a lot of people.

It ain’t Loser Rock, that’s for damn sure!


Loser Rock

 Posted by
Sep 172007

For many on RTH, Loser Rock is the ultimate musical bete noire. On the face of it, the words “Loser Rock” conjure the image of a broken, simpering man, venting his pain by cradling an acoustic guitar, mousily whispering words of a bottomless yet superficial despair, before finally collapsing in a pile of tears. Or perhaps the term summons the memory a doomed, slovenly, possibly soused twentysomething, howling against the elements, wringing a tortured sound from his Fender Jaguar, while a rhythm section plods along with a distinct lack of commitment.

Here in the halls of rock, Loser Rock can take on mythic proportions, often becoming the convenient scapegoat for the decreased popularity of party-rock, cock-rock… in fact, one could conceivably pin the decline of rock ‘n’ roll in the public sphere at the feet of Loser Rock. The ultimate sin of Loser Rock is that it ultimately encouraged listeners to equate rock with bad times, not good ones. And who honestly wants spend time at that party?

But of course in many ways this characterization of Loser Rock is a straw argument. Re-read the first paragraph; now, do you actually know any well-known musicians who are really like that, and nothing but that? I submit that the likes of The Smiths, Elliott Smith, and Belle and Sebastian are not Loser Rock so much as they are Alone Time Rock. (Paradoxically, The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian’s cult audiences have swelled to the size of their own social sect, practically. Of course, these fans are often cited as part of the problem by the anti-Loser Rockers. But that’s a whole other essay.)

That said, there is something called Loser Rock and it can be a positive or a negative. At its best – when acts like The Replacements, Aimee Mann, Nirvana, and Quasi are firing on all cylinders – Loser Rock owns up to reality. If Winner Rock thrives on the delusion that the odds can be defied (hence its frequent connection with sports), Loser Rock achieves catharsis by facing failure and articulating it accurately and perfectly. Sometimes, shit goes down and it’s best not to pretend otherwise. Loser Rock can allow you to wallow, and sometimes we all need a good wallow. But that’s not the only way. For a time, The Replacements showed us how to turn losing into a good party. Aimee Mann displayed the effectiveness of a precisely worded and dryly delivered summation of a losing situation. Nirvana wedded hopeless desperation to corrosive guitars and a rhythm section that frankly eats Winner Rockers for dinner. Quasi have entire albums that act as the indie-rock equivalent of Peter Finch’s famous Network speech, or perhaps Alec Baldwin’s in Glengarry Glen Ross. Get mad, sons of bitches.

In contrast, it seems to me, Winner Rock as Mr. Moderator defines it, is an almost abstract concept. The Clash addresses its audience as a whole? Doesn’t this tie in with that great band’s worst attribute – their rhetoric? I’m not convinced that Winner Rock is not, in fact, best represented by Survivor and Journey.

One final point, and an olive branch of sorts: An appreciation of Loser Rock does not mean one cannot also listen to Winner Rock. The point is that a person should be able to access a wide variety of emotions in their music collection, if they so choose. One day you might want to hear “Eye of the Tiger.” Another day you might want “Needle in the Hay.” Must every song be connected to “Satisfaction”?

Jul 122007

I was listening to some of my favorite rockin’ Mott the Hoople songs today – early period stuff like “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”, “Walkin’ With a Mountain”, and “Rock ‘n Roll Queen”, and I got to thinking about artists who do much more than could be expected with the little bit they’ve got. No offense to Ian Hunter and his fine, rockin’ mates, but with the exception of the Bowie-penned “All the Young Dudes”, “Roll Away the Stone”, and maybe one or two other songs, Mott the Hoople made their career on exactly two types of songs:
Continue reading »

May 252007

Among the dozen Replacements songs that I enjoy hearing (probably 8 of which follow the same heroic-yet-self-deprecating template) is “Can’t Hardly Wait”, from one of two of their albums that I like the most, Pleased to Meet Me (wanna take a stab at what the other one is?). It’s got that Booker T & the MGs riff, which I’m always a sucker for, and I like the melody and sentiments of the lyrics. Goes down easy.

A couple of days ago I heard an alternate version that I never knew existed. Bob Stinson played on it, driving the song with his customary music store test-run bravado. Just like that a different version of the same song that I’d liked by The Replacements moved to the Crap bin. And I was reminded that Bob Stinson was the deal breaker for me regarding The Replacements. There were enough other beefs I had with them that they wouldn’t have made it beyond third-rate status with me, but I might have enjoyed them more had they made more records without Stinson – and without that Slim Dunlap guy as well. I don’t think Westerberg was very creative or effective in the “giving direction” department. On either side of Pleased to Meet Me, he let his guitar store clerk guitarists just do their thing, and their thing belonged in the guitar aisle.

So this is a roundabout way of asking whether you’ve ever identified a deal breaker among a band that you otherwise might have liked well enough.

Mar 062007

One of my favorite rock biographies that I’ve ever read is a dog-eared copy of a book penned by former road manager Johnny Green & Garry Barker called, A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash. I’ve passed this one on to friends and gotten it back by mail with compliments more than a few times in the past from touring bands, giving it out with the promise of a (hopeful) return. Each time someone spots it, I have the urge to give it away just so that it can be read and enjoyed by someone else.

Image from Amazon
A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash by Johnny Green, Garry Barker

It’s made it into my all-time favorite rock biographies because of its ability to grab hold of my imagination no matter what part of the book I open a page to – The Clash in the late 1970s. Watching Rude Boy always kind of gave me that feeling too and I think that’s where this book got me as well – it sucked me right in through the eyes of Someone Who Was There, possibly getting spit on, sweat on and kicked, but there – sleeping in the tour bus, and knee-deep in the chaos. It made me feel like I was part of the crew, along for the ride. No BS, and a really strong narrative!

Image from Amazon
The Replacements’ Let It Be (33 1/3) by Colin Meloy

Another cool collection that I highly recommend, not necessarily all “rock biography” per se, but still worth a mention, are the books from the 33 1/3 series. I’ve only read The Replacements’ Let It Be, by Colin Meloy (lead singer for The Decemberists), but thoroughly enjoyed it, and I plan to pick up others. Meloy’s touching and personal essay detailed how hearing The Replacements album Let It Be impacted his life and that of his best friend in his early teens.
Continue reading »


Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube