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Paul Westerberg / Grandpaboy: Stereo/Mono

Album: Stereo/Mono
Label: Vagrant

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For those keeping track, as of next year Paul Westerberg's solo career will have lasted as long as his stint in The Replacements, so the time seems right for a restatement of purpose. Typically, his new double album doesn't provide one, but two. Westerberg's songs, both with his old band and through his uneven but generally underrated solo career, tend to fall into two categories: the visceral and the tender. The new Stereo/Mono takes the divide to its logical extreme. Stereo follows the example of 1999's stripped-down Suicaine Gratifaction, letting Westerberg's voice and guitar dominate and keeping the pace leisurely. Recorded "mostly live in the middle of the night," according to Westerberg's liner notes, the album presents sound that's as unvarnished as the emotion. The off-the-cuff approach results in some daft lyrics ("baby learns to crawl / watching daddy's skin") and dud moments, but when Westerberg finds his feet in this mode, he has few rivals in summoning up the sound of loneliness. "Got You Down," "Boring Enormous," and "Only Lie Worth Telling" (lyrical punchline: "...is that I'm in love with you") all capture a "middle of the night" that isn't so much a time frame as a frame of mind. Packaged with Stereo, Mono revives Grandpaboy, his occasional pseudonym. Where Stereo should appeal to listeners who like their Westerberg served raw, Mono seems intended for those who prefer him bloody. Raucous and unpolished in a fashion not heard since deep in The Replacements' discography, Mono sounds as energized as Stereo sounds enervated. Recorded with a mystery lineup perfectly in tune with Westerberg's spirit (though not perfectly in tune otherwise), and filled with Westerbergisms such as "with your eyes like sparks / my heart like gasoline," Mono suggests there might be a great future in the past. Taken as a whole, Stereo/Mono confirms that Westerberg has a future, whichever path he pursues.