In the mid-'90s, Paul Westerberg was in danger of ruining his reputation as the songwriter for deeply influential alt-rockers The Replacements, thanks to a raft of bland solo material that showed little of the passion of classics like Let It Be or Tim. Thankfully, he's recaptured more than enough of the Mats' ragged glory by flying under the radar as Grandpaboy, and with his latest release under his own name, the lo-fi, self-recorded 49:00. Titled after Westerberg's age (he turns 49 in December), it's a loose, shaggy beast that throws together a collection of new songs, seemingly unfinished snippets, and a medley of classic-rock covers. (The latter is a single 44-minute mp3 with no official track listing or title, and it was released as an online-only 49-cent download less than a week after it was finished.)
Westerberg songs generally sound better when they're roughed up a little—the Mats' Don't Tell A Soul is proof enough that he doesn't shine when he's too polished—and 49:00 doesn't so much embrace that aesthetic as wrestle it to the ground in a big, joyous sprawl. Songs fade in and out, or smash into each other like cars at a demolition derby, cutting each other off and sometimes playing simultaneously. The jarring transitions, or lack thereof, might be frustrating for anyone expecting a traditional album, and it certainly ruins the mood of his heartbreaker about a father's death to have the subsequent rave-up burst through like Kool-Aid Man in a funeral home. But that's the way he wanted it— stating emphatically in all caps on his website that "ALL SOUNDS ARE INTENTIONAL AND VALID AS A WORK OF ART"—and it mostly works wonderfully, positioning Westerberg right where he ought to be, between Guided By Voices and the Stones' Let It Bleed.