Just a few short years ago, many were wondering if we would ever hear from the brilliant mind of Paul Westerberg again. The reclusive songwriter/genius had not been heard from since 2009’s self-released PW & the Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys and nothing of substance had been released since 2008’s brilliant 49:00.
However, 2013 brought about the triumphant return of The Replacements, who did a few festival shows in 2013-14 before a full-fledged reunion tour to start 2015. Just as sudden as the reunion came Westerberg’s announcement that the band was done once again.
At that point, any hope for new music appeared to be dashed.
However. a few months ago, Juliana Hatfield cryptically posted pictures on her Instagram hinting at a collaboration with Westerberg. The result of that collaboration became known as The I Don’t Cares, which released its first album, Wild Stab, 10 days ago. The effort is typical Westerberg — lo-fidelity, little production, poignant lyrics — and reminds me of his early-to-mid-2000s effort, Stereo and Folker.
Hatfield, another under appreciated rocker and writer, approached Westerberg about the collaboration, and apparently he told her to go though his catalog of demos and pick out what she felt was usable. Of the 16 tracks that made the final cut, most are worthy of the Westerberg tradition, with a couple of exceptions. Listening to the album from start to finish is a fun experience, and it makes the listener appreciate not only Westerberg’s songwriting, but also Hatfield’s harmonizing (as she did with Evan Dando’s Lemonheads in the 1990s) and ear for good music.
The best three tracks are “Back,” “King of America”, and “Hands Together”. The former opens the album and is a brilliant piece of writing from the Don’t Tell a Soul Replacements’ era that works on many levels. The lyrics (I’m back if you’ll have me) could be about someone returning to the love of his life or could just as easily be about a pair of aging stars returning to making an album. The pop-rock “King of America” parallels Westerberg’s life a bit, from the beginning as a janitor (what he did prior to meeting up with the Stinson brothers and forming The Replacements) to his spot as the “king” of those who live their life “left of the dial.” Certainly Westerberg doesn’t see himself as royalty, but the line between sincerity and self-deprecation is always part of the joke with him. “Hands Together” is a poignant ballad that intertwines history and personal lives, and is reminiscent of someone of Westerberg’s best ballads, “Here Comes a Regular”, “Skyway” and “We May Be the Ones.”
Another interesting song is the remake of “Born For Me.” I am of the camp that the original is perfection, but the more upbeat version has grown on me a bit and I can listen to it and appreciate it. The fact that Westerberg wrote the song for Hatfiled back in the day makes me appreciate this version a bit more.
Though Westerberg handles the majority of the vocals (and likely the instruments, as he has on a number of his efforts), Hatfield does a nice job on a couple of the songs. “Dance to the Fight” is a catchy tune reminiscent of something from Westerberg’s Eventually album, while “Just a Phase” is also a strong effort from the former leader of the Juliana Hatfield 3.
Other highlights include the duet, “Kissing Break”, another Replacements-era outtake (“Wear Me Out Loud”), the soft, Wilco-like, “Sorry for Tomorrow Night”, the poppy “Need the Guys” and the fun and punky “Done Done Done” (think Ramones meets the Replacements) and “Outta My System.”
In reality, the only real lowlights are the goofy, nonsensical “1/2 2 P” and the underdeveloped “Little People.”
This album, produced very quickly, is a great start for the duo. It is also a great reminder of the brilliance of Westerberg and the skill of Hatfield. A tour seems unlikely, at least according to a Vanyaland interview the legendary Peter Wolf had with Westerberg, but one can hope for another album and then maybe a tour. Of course, with Paul Westerberg, anything can happen.