Out There

Bastard of middle age
Eventually
Paul Westerberg
Reprise Records

The Monkees are headed out again this summer looking to rake in the cheap dollars of middle-age nostalgia, bloated in the knowledge there are plenty of suckers out there willing to pay for the thrill of revisiting memories better left forgotten. Thomas Jefferson High School grad Mike Nesmith won't be joining Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Mickey Dolenz on their Last Schmaltz because he's either too dumb or too proud, but there's a guy out there who's well suited to be his, you got it, replacement.

No one should begrudge a musician who grows up and grows out of his young skin; it's the nature of life and the music business (and never the twain shall meet), and Paul Westerberg's days as the neurotic and drunken frontman for a drunken and neurotic band are long over--and good riddance. But Eventually follows up 14 Songs with 12 more that prove sometimes there's just no more left at the bottom of the bottle. The party ends when the whiskey runs dry, and Westerberg's just looking for a ride home.

It's got to be hard when your best song came a decade ago, but such is Westerberg's legacy: He shot his wad with "Unsatisfied," the greatest frustrated love song of the '80s, then spent the next few years tossing and turning till he finally fell asleep. Now he's the content sap singing his deep throwaway ditties ("A good day's any day you're alive," he sings to the ghost of Bob Stinson) and writing songs with less meat than a vegetarian restaurant; if the 'Mats rip "You Had it With You" is his idea of biting wordplay, it's time to clean those dentures, old man.

This is pop music without the pop, and the more you hear Westerberg falter outside of the Replacements, the more you have to wonder if maybe he was ever that great a songwriter in the first place. Revisionist history teaches us, in the end, the Replacements was a great band in which no one piece was more or less important than the whole, and when Tommy Stinson joins Westerberg on Eventually's febrile "Trumpet Clip," you're only reminded how easily energy could compensate for lack of substance. There's something to be said for uncalculated sloppiness, and "Trumpet Clip" sounds less like an attempt to recapture "old times" than a slip that accidentally turned into a slide into third.

But then there are the songs like "Ain't Got Me" and "Century" (anyone who thinks "Century" one-ups "Bastards of Young" don't know dick about rock and roll), the retreads of familiar themes that only send you back to Let it Be and Pleased to Meet Me looking for the clues that led to this 'Mats-ricide.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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