100 for 2000 – #23. Paul Westerberg – Stereo/Mono

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2002 – #3. Paul Westerberg – Stereo/Mono
(Vagrant)

I love the Replacements and I loved every Paul Westerberg solo album. But after the flop of Suicane Gratification, it just seemed like it was over. I was (and still am) a regular visitor to Kathy Shine’s fantastic Man Without Tieswebsite. And it seemed like he had disappeared off the map. So with great surprise, he released two albums in 2002, the double set of Stereo/Mono. And it’s utterly, utterly fantastic.

After high profile producers and production budgets, Westerberg finally left the majors game and spent some years in the wilderness. When he came back he had changed. He stopped trying to be the next Tom Petty and went back to being pure Westerberg. Sparingly (and often badly) recorded songs from his basement studio, he fires off classic after classic.

The first part of the set, Stereo, are the more considered songs. They share a sadness, but also a great wit. The opening couplet is one of Westerberg’s all time best:

Baby learns to crawl
Watching Daddy’s skin

And from there it doesn’t let up. The ode to a deceased friend in No Place For You, and the kind of losers-with-hope anthems that he invented with Boring Enormous and We May Be the Ones.

The flip side is Mono, the rock side (release separately under his pseudonym ‘Grandpaboy’). 11 rocking and rolling blues pop things, full of smiles, sadness and style. The self-depreciating Silent Film Star, the two line wonder Eyes Like Sparks, the touching 2 Days Til Tomorrow and the truly touching Between Love And Like…these are Westerberg’s best rockers since Pleased To Meet Me, 16 years earlier.

There is a rawness in every song, and despite the title, they sound of a piece. Some songs cut in and out, and end abruptly. It’s subtle and not as annoying as the same trick he did years later on 49:00. The feeling is voyeuristic – Westerberg rocking out on his own in his basement, being completely honest.

Having pretty much lost it all, Westerberg was back and he even took to the road. Following all the fan updates on Man Without Ties – I got quite emotional. Reading about people finally seeing PW play, and how he would play the hits and the great new songs everyone loved. It seemed in a small way he was getting his due. And after years of being unable to, we could give back to him. The shows were a big success.

All this is captured on the Come Feel Me Tremble DVD, which ends with footage of PW signing records after the show. A wonderful montage, showing the huge lines, and Paul’s reaction as he signs old records given to him. One person even gives him a custom Paul Westerberg baseball bat, and the man almost cries.

I’ve still never seen the man live – and likely never will. But In an age where people never really disappear or bands never break up, it’s hard to fathom how exciting this resurrection was. And these two records are the best of PW’s solo work. If you’re a Mats fan who never went beyond, here’s the place to start.

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