Paul Westerberg fronted one of the last truly great rock and roll bands with The Replacements. The entire Replacements oeuvre is currently being remastered and re-released for those who missed the boat or who want some audio clarity amidst the drunken rock and roll and Westerberg’s dyslexic art. To strike a balance with this, Westerberg recently broke silence to release 49:00, a baffling 49 minute one track download-only album for the sum total of 49 cents.
Westerberg’s work in his latter years has constantly trod the line between frustratingly average and frustratingly brilliant. His last album 2004’s Folker continued with his ‘down in the basement’ recording style and contained some first-class originals, but lacked some of the vitality and spark of previous releases. 49:00 recaptures the same devil-may-care attitude of old, with Westerberg’s decision to release his latest album with little to no fanfare with the idea of calling it 49:00 and charging people 49 cents to buy it (a cent a minute). Value for money you can’t deny, and a purchase even for the discerning Replacements fans, it’s hardly a crap-shoot. There are 14-odd tracks on display, the total time being a few minutes short of the perceived 49 minutes.
It’s almost perverse to think 49:00 even in its present state eclipses nearly all of Westerberg’s post-Replacements back catalogue. It embodies the earnest and irreverent rock and roll that carried The Replacements throughout their career. Were you to untwine the songs and separate them into entities with a beginning and an end you’d hold in your hands something far deserving the 49 cents you paid. These aren’t careless superlatives. There are people out there who are going listen and go ‘what is this shit?’, and from initial reports, this is the mindset I walked into this project thinking. Westerberg’s intention for 49:00 was to be like driving your car, listening to the radio, scanning through the dial, hearing snippets of songs, some that overlap like you’re picking up multiple transmissions. The artwork for 49:00 carries this joke a little further, with the hand-drawn sleeve request ‘do not listen while operating a motor vehicle’.
You can invent your own song titles here, and you’ll have to since, none of them are named, but with songs like “Terry, Who You Gonna Marry?” and “Something in My Life is Missing” that open the album, you realise that for all Westerberg’s attempts to occasionally shoot himself in his foot, this isn’t just a poorly selected collection of half-finished songs. “Devil Raised a Good Boy” and “I’m Clean” are reminiscent of the scrappy rock of The Replacements circa Let It Be, the latter containing the rib-tickling “my heart was gold/now it’s silver/please don’t ask about my liver”. The highlight here is the deeply moving “Goodnight Sweet Prince”, Westerberg’s tribute to the passing of his father.
You could argue that 49:00 is nothing more than wilful sabotage (and in the case of “Goodnight Sweet Prince” you’d wish he had just left well enough alone) or you can take it in the spirit that it’s meant. If you’ve never heard the Replacements, it’s never too late. It’s like drinking and rock and roll. These things just go together, and where the Replacements were beer and cigarettes, Westerberg is scotch and cigars. The man just gets better with age, and for 49 cents, what have you go to lose?