Review Summary: Eventually it had to happen.
What had to happen? Paul Westerberg would have to make an ordinary pop rock album for ordinary folks. He had to grow up a bit to do it and shed some angst and drink, but he did it. And it came out pretty darn good.
What we have here is a satisfied Paul. That is evident from the breezy pop jingle jangle of the very first track, These Are The Days. Its smooth, mid tempo, and doesn't rock too much. On this cut Paul sings of just letting the days pass and not even noticing they are gone. One day blends into the next and while in the past it might lead to boredom and angst the grown up Westerberg simply sings of quiet acceptance and not knowing the difference between today and yesterday as the days "run together for company." But no boozing here as in the past, or contempt or escape. Paul just picks and grins and sounds content to rest. "These are the days" Paul sings. But not the best of his life. Just of his life, period. And the breezy, mid tempo music seems to suggest "good enough."
"Lonely, I guess that's where I'm from" Westerberg once sang on record. And on this album Paul sings about it as being alone, if not lonely. Love Untold, the third track of the album is a simple date song about being stood up. 20 years after it's release it could even be about a Facebook romance gone bust. Such is the timelessness of Westerberg's songwriting and the ever unchanged human heart. But whatever the case it's another mid tempo pop song that allows the lyrics to come through and break your heart. "Games would be played / Excuses would be made / The stupid things they said / In their prayers" Paul sings of having the desire but not the courage or confidence to get real about love. The music is melancholy, there is no alternative. As the video to this song so plainly shows it's a life of wanting more but if people never get past their lonely, scared existence, it's just another night spent alone with the TV or a pizza. And the songwriter's acceptance would seem to suggest it's ok, we've all been there at least once. Even if once is enough to change your life forever. "They were gonna meet / On a crummy little street / It never came to be / I'm told" Westerberg sings. Pretty sad, but these days at least we have internet and Netflix to fill the void.
Paul still has some kick left in him, though. Songs like "You've Had It With You" kicks up a little 4/4 rock 'n roll storm as Paul sings of being used by someone who "needs someone to fall in love with / Anyone will do" and how that runs both ways and ends up the same for both parties. And if the angst ridden lyrics are a bit too obvious given the aggressive musical tone when given the other songs on the album, the song still fits well with the overall theme of loss and loneliness found on this album.
Another track which explores fear and loneliness is Hide 'n Seekin.' A classic Westerberg bar song, it's a quiet record that features simple guitar, gentle keyboards, and brush drums while Paul hauntingly sings of hiding behind our fears and looking for a connection all the while. "Is that you / Peeking out from that hat / Hide 'n Seekin / Behind a drink that's gone flat" Paul sings of those lonely enough to want something or someone, but too frozen by fear to come out from behind themselves to face it. "Hide 'n Seekin / From everyone here but me" Paul wants her to know. Because he is the same, as he sits quietly "Hide 'n Seekin' / Wondering if you need a light." It's a great, quiet track that cuts to the core of an age old dilemma of romance and love for many. "Hide 'n Seekin' is for children, baby" Westerberg sings. And it makes us wonder if some ever grow up before they become too old to do so, and get what they want or need out of love.
Paul reunites with his old bassist chum Tommy Stinson for the upbeat Trumpet Clip and it's the sort of fun, irreverent tune The 'Mats were known for in their heyday. But don't let that upbeat music fool you. This song explores the sexual games we play of "look don't touch" and professing love while thinking about "her underwear" all the while. "Pin the tail on Demi Moore" Westerberg sings of the games we play while the music rocks out behind him. "Look don't hump" Paul proclaims until letting us know "you got skunked." What to do but '"give the world the slip" in the end. And it's Hide 'n Seekin' all over again.
So what is all this about? Perhaps the most revealing track on the album is also it's most literal, and one of it's best. MamaDaddyDid informs us of deciding the exact opposite of what most people decide to do, or are compelled to do. Which is to fall in love and have children. Another mid tempo track that allows the lyrics to shine through Paul sings boldly of "Decided not to have any part of / Wonderful lie live I'm in love" and quite soberly proclaims "Decided not to raise any children just like / mamama daddy did." And if the listener wonders why this is at the beginning of the song in the end it becomes clear, as Paul let's us know "at least they tried" but raised a "goddamn, mixed up kid" named Paul regardless, and not wanting to do the same. It seems Paul wants us to know the world is full of lives, loves, and families trying to get it right even if all that has come before them has been wrong at best, and dismal failures at the very worst. From the fathers and mothers, to the sons and the daughters. It's as personal and revealing a tune as Westerberg has ever written and he lays his soul bare. Truly courageous songwriting that leaves him standing naked and alone and exposed, and for me one of his best songs because of it. Is he coward or courageous for going it alone in the world? Only Paul knows as he has been married twice, and twice divorced. And he has one son born two years after the release of this album. "Decided not to have any regrets / That's as good as it gets" Paul sings of fatherhood. Let's just hope for his sake and that of his son, that very fatherhood has now turned what he thought might be regret to fulfillment. Otherwise the world gets just one more goddamn, mixed up adult from a goddamn mixed up kid.
Hey, Paul! You turned out great, buddy. Even if it took awhile. So you don't need this song anymore. But it is still a great one of courage, conviction and sad, insightful wisdom that millions of screw ups should hear and consider before having kids for reasons not there own.
Elsewhere on the album we find Paul in a hopeful, joyful mood as with the lovely Angels Walk about goodness in life being on the ground and not from above and features lovely guitar work and a breezy melody, and the mournful but optimistic Bob Stinson tribute Good Day. Stinson is the former Replacements guitarist who essentially drank himself to death, and Paul wants us to know not to do the same as a gentle piano plays along. "A good day is any day you're alive" Paul sings. And if so, maybe all the loneliness and heartbreak this album conveys isn't so bad, after all. We are alive, and will be so until we are not. Let's make the best of it.
An extraordinary album about the ordinary we all experience at one time or another in our lives, be it emotional or all too real. "Time flies tomorrow" Paul let's us know on the final track of the same name. "But it ain't made a move yet." May as well look forward to getting there, and hope a little luck in life and love is waiting around the next bend.