The Over/Under: Paul Westerberg

PaulWesterberg

Apart from a joint interview with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong in Spin and commenting on the loss of his hero, Alex Chilton, in The New York Times, deservedly legendary singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg has been keeping a pretty low profile. So, what better time to subject his post-Replacements catalog to everyone’s “favorite” MAGNET feature? Now remember, this is just one guy’s opinion, a guy who loves the Replacements and Westerberg as much as anyone. (Well, maybe not as much as a few Westernerds; you know who you are.) While my fondness for Westerberg’s post-Replacements output has faded somewhat, he’s still my default answer when anyone asks whom I consider my favorite songwriter of all-time. Commenters were generally kind when I did the Replacements Over/Under, especially compared to the poor saps who dared to critique Guided By Voices and Ween. Be that as it may, here’s another reminder: The songs on the overrated list aren’t necessarily genuinely overrated by fans or by the general public, nor are they necessarily bad. And the underrated ones aren’t always obscure. The entire thing is just an editorial exercise on a webpage; feel free to chime in with your picks or chide me in the comments. Read a lot more about the Replacements, Hüsker Dü and the ’80s Minneapolis scene in our extensive 2005 cover story. Also read our 2002 cover story on Westerberg and novelist George Pelecanos’ ode to the Replacements.

The Five Most Overrated Paul Westerberg Songs
1. “Dyslexic Heart” (1992)
Along with the superior “Waiting For Somebody,” “Dyslexic Heart” appeared on the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s Singles. As an overeager fanboy still crying over the Replacements’ demise and jonesing for Westerberg product, I sported a shit-eating grin upon hearing both songs while watching the movie. The smile’s not quite as big when considering this tune now. It’s a nice, little pop song, one of Westerberg’s catchiest, but once the initial rush was over, my lack of interest in it soon followed.

2. “Love Untold” (1996)
I defended “Love Untold” (from Eventually) after my friend Cal said it was a retread of “First Glimmer” from 14 Songs, Westerberg’s 1993 solo debut LP. While it’s really not a retread, lyrically this tale of missed romantic opportunity borders on trite: “Their hands were gonna sweat/It was all set/She ain’t showed up yet/Still a good chance.” And then there’s the part about wearing clean underwear. I love the music, love the tension, but I always expect Westerberg to come up with better lyrics than that. It’s my hangup, I know.

3. “Actor In The Street” (1999)
I’ve never understood what Westerberg is going on about on this tune: “I shot an actor in the street/It was my debut at directing/We nailed him in the hands and feet/Last seen, he was in his trailer resting.” (Some sort of persecuted-thespian-as-Jesus reference, perhaps?) More importantly, I stopped caring pretty quickly about this meandering mess that closed the disappointing Suicaine Gratifaction. So how is ”Actor In The Street” overrated? Because I don’t recall more people disliking it as much as I do. Am I wrong?

4. “Folk Star” (2004)
Westerberg repeatedly wailing “I’m a folk star” while closing out this middling Folker dud is surely someone’s cup of tea, just not mine. “Folk Star” strikes me as the least-inspired tune on a pretty uninspired record (though many disagree), one that made Suicaine sound comparatively better.

5. “Love You In The Fall” (2006)
There are some pretty good songs on Open Season, Westerberg’s soundtrack to the animated film, with “Love You In The Fall” probably being the best. But since I refuse to put full LPs on an Over/Under list, “Love You In The Fall” will have to take the fall for a discussion I had about the record with MAGNET editor/publisher Eric T. Miller. Not only did Miller claim that Open Season was a better record than Portastatic’s far-superior Be Still Please, which he left off his year-end best-of list in favor of Open Season, he believed it to be better than the Replacements’ Stink. While no one’s opinion on a record is “wrong” (though Miller tells me the opposite on a regular basis), the notion bugged me to the point where I was compelled to asked some Westerberg/Replacements-loving friends for their thoughts. I can’t sum it up better than LC (“Anyone who’d argue for Open Season over any Replacements album, including the late-era, basically solo-Westerberg albums, is crazy”) and Joe (“One record represents the beginning of something, and the other is pretty clearly near the end of something”).

The Five Most Underrated Paul Westerberg Songs
1. “World Class Fad” (1993)
Not only is “World Class Fad” the most Replacements-y rocker (in quality and in spirit) on 14 Songs, its video, shown on MTV at least twice, is pretty cool. Rumored to be about Kurt Cobain—though Westerberg denied it in MAGNET’s aforementioned cover story—its withering snark, directed at whichever soon-to-be-forgotten, young-rocker target (“You want it that bad, be a world-class fad/Remember, leave a trail of crumbs”), hits its mark. It’s a cliché, but “World Class Fad,” video and all, should’ve been the hit Westerberg’s never had.

2. “Once Around The Weekend” (1996)
In a career full of sad songs, this one from Eventually might be the saddest. Given Westerberg’s reclusive nature, it’s difficult not to think “Once Around The Weekend” is pure autobiography: “I watch myself fall apart/I watch rabbits in my yard/There goes another ‘round the bend/I’ve gotta sweep this floor again.” The song’s spare loneliness is simply heartbreaking and simply genius. (Pointless aside: I never liked the sped-up version played on tour in ’96; it robbed the song of much of its poignancy.)

3. “Lush And Green” (1997)
Among diehards, this gorgeous acoustic ballad from the self-titled, five-track Grandpaboy EP is hardly underrated. It’s here simply in the hopes that at least one of the 12 people who reads this and has never heard the song will take the time to do so.

4. “These Days” (2003)
A Jackson Browne tune also covered by the likes of Gregg Allman and Mates Of State, Westerberg’s world-weary version on Come Feel Me Tremble kills me every time. (Another pointless aside: How amazing is it that Browne wrote this when he was 16? I played Strat-O-Matic Baseball and worked on the school newspaper when I was that age. Advantage, Browne.) The measure of a cover version, be it faithful or completely reworked, is how well the performer makes it his/her/their own. While it’s clear the lyrics aren’t Westy’s (the teenage Browne could never be as clever), when he sings lines like “Please don’t confront me with my failures/I had not forgotten them,” “These Days” officially becomes Westerbergian.

5. “As Far As I Know” (2004)
While Folker is kind of a folking bore, “As Far As I Know” most certainly is not. It’s a jangly, catchy gem with typically great Westy wordplay: “I’m in love with a dream I had as a kid/I wait up the street until you show/That dream it came true, but you never do/No, you never did/As far as I know.” “As Far As I Know” has all of Westerberg’s best songwriting qualities neatly wrapped up in a three-minute package. If he penned more nuggets like this, far fewer people would question whether he’s still able to.

—Matt Hickey

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