Saturday, 15 November 2008

[75] Paul Westerberg - 49:00... Of Your Time/Life




Paul Westerberg is not an experimental artist. Throughout his long career, from his days in alt-rock trailblazers The Replacements, to his solo albums in the 1990s and beyond, he has been a harbinger of down and dirty Rock stylings, with smatterings of acoustic folk-y balladry. However, his latest release, 49:00... Of Your Time/Life, is an uncompromising work in anybody's book. Released in July 2008, the album has only been distributed over the internet, initially over Amazon.com, and TuneCore, for 49 cents, before being withdrawn a few days later for no officially-disclosed reason. 49:00 is a single track, a sound collage. Lo-fi recordings collide, overlap, even play in unison. No tracklist was released (so all references to songs on here are tentatively named), and the download was only accompanied by a rough, hand-drawn cover and the following disclaimer:


WARNING: DO NOT LISTEN WHILE OPERATING A MOTOR VEHICLE

THIS PRODUCT IS NOT FAULTY - ALL SOUNDS ARE INTENTIONAL AND VALID AS A WORK OF ART


The sound of 49:00 was intended to emulate the cycling of a radio dial through various channels, or the passing through different broadcasts. It certainly feels like that, as, after a couple of fully-formed opening numbers, the recordings deviate and morph. The atmospheric ballad 'Goodnight Sweet Prince' is almost sabotaged by the encroachment, or interference, of various other songs throughout its runtime. The rough-edged, lo-fi approach is similar to that of Westerberg's solo albums since 2002's Stereo, which was recorded in his basement, with all warts and imperfections intact. It also helps that Westerberg's material this time out includes some of his best ('Something in My Life is Missing', 'You're My Girl'). And even the sub-par songs are elevated by his passionate, energetic delivery, or are easily overlooked because within seconds, something else kicks in. It has been said that his best albums, including The Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me and his solo debut 14 Songs, were tainted by their heavy-handed production flourishes or too-slick arrangements. Here, the recording aesthetic, and production approach is perfectly pitched.





Indeed, there are issues with such a format, and the album does peter out after the bizarre, unsatisfying collage of short popular song covers (The Beatles, Elton John, Alice Cooper, and more, in barely a minute), and the incoherent 'Oh Yeah'. And, of course, amateur recordings, or deconstructionist approaches to album sequencing is nothing new. Bands such as Sebadoh, or Guided By Voices made careers out of such innovations over a decade ago (and let's not get into album-length song suites). However, Westerberg's album is much more conceptual, and invites lofty interpretation, despite the erstwhile Alt-Rock at its core. Does issuing a 40-odd minute long song as an album relate a stubborn loyalty to the 'album' format, in this age of single tracks, downloads and iPod playlists? Does it show a willingness to experiment with the album form, taking the traditional approach of a mish-mash of tracks, mostly united by a similar moment or context of recording or inspiration, and creating a new 'experience'? Or is it a bitter comment on current musical audience's ADD approach, whose mind wanders after an albums first couple of tracks? Westerberg says he has a bit of ADD himself, so maybe he's just having a laugh.

It is fascinating that an older artist, who many believe has not recorded anything noteworthy in almost 20 years, can bring up these questions, and be infectiously entertaining at the same time. 49:00 may not be a classic on the level of late albums from The Replacements, or even some of the other Westerberg albums mentioned in this article (meaning, in a traditional sense). What it is, though, is different. It is unhinged and unfettered, and more than worth the 49 minutes of your life it takes to experience.

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[And what's more, in the time since releasing 49:00, Westerberg has put out 2 further singles, 'Bored of Edukation' and '5:05', and an EP 3oclockreep. These have all been self-released over the internet, highlighting the freedom afforded by digital distribution. I'll cover those in a future post.]

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Check out Man Without Ties for more info on 49:00, and other releases.
Check out Paul Westerberg.net for other Westerberg internet happenings.
Read more about 49:00, including speculated tracklistings, on Wikipedia.

1 comment:

Mike C said...

Great review - have clicked links to go in search of Westerberg-related stuff. Was wondering what has happened since the split of Replacements!