| ||Paul Westerberg|
Once upon a time, Paul Westerberg was the reigning drunk prince of rock. As frontman of The Replacements, he provided a loud and snotty, yet beautiful, beer-fueled soundtrack for all the world's fuck-ups, let-downs and failures. When he traded in his 12-pack of Meister Brau for a 12-step program, however, and The Replacements self-destructed, his songwriting style changed and took a turn for the sappy. It's a well documented fact that when musicians, actors or artists stop drinking, smoking or snorting the substances that made them so fresh and exciting, they invariable suck (see Richard Pryor, The Rolling Stones, Cheech Marin, etc.). Where Paul's songs once possessed indignant alienation and irony, there was now maudlin introspection. A man who once sang "Kick Your Door Down" and "Gary's Got a Boner" was now reduced to whistlin' tunes for the Singles soundtrack and swiggin' from a bottle of O'Douls.
It's not as if he went from hard-core punk to VH-1 overnight. Put in simpler terms, Paul Westerberg swearing off booze and going clean and sober was much akin to the Pope announcing his conversion to Scientology. While some would say his music is now "more mature" and "grownup," I say it's a whole lot duller and the majority of the songs on his new album Suicaine Gratification fall prey to this disease.
Most of the tracks are sparingly arranged with Paul just accompanying himself on piano or acoustic guitar. Maybe I'm just uncomfortable hearing my boyhood idol slowly morphing into Joni Mitchell, but I cringed while listening to the CD. The only songs I found worth sticking around for were those when he reverts back to playing straight up rock, albeit in a more cuddly and scaled down version. No longer does Paul hide behind distorted guitars and an attitude equal parts manic-loneliness and cut-rate liquor; he now sings humbly and directly to the audience with few production values or middlemen involved (even playing all of the instruments on some tracks).
By far the best track on the album is "Best Thing That Never Happened" and it's the one song that really evokes the raw power of his previous group. It's simple, jangly guitar riffs and raspy vocals also kinda bring to mind something Rod Stewart and the Faces might have done had they written songs about the pain of regret instead of "shaggin' birds." The only other standout item here is the folksy "It's a Wonderful Lie" in which he pokes fun at his previous image of misunderstood asshole as being "just a pose."
Even though the album is generally more miss than hit and Paul's new intimate, pianoy vibe makes him sound more like Tori Amos than the former frontman of the almighty 'Mats, I take a great big whiskey to him anyway.
Tom Waits, Mule Variations
In further alcoholic singer/songwriter news, Tom Waits also checks in this month with the much anticipated Mule Variations, his first album in nearly six years and his first for punk label Epitaph. It might seem strange to have this piano troubadour share the same label as hard-core bands like Rancid and Pennywise, but Tom's a strange guy and his new collection of surreal, boozy, and bluesified tunes confirms this yet again. Whereas his last two albums were more theatrically oriented (the Night on Earth soundtrack and a mini-opera called The Black Rider), Mule Variations picks up where his 1992 masterpiece Bone Machine left off. Bizarre songs like
"Big in Japan" and "Low Side of the Road" are backed by wild beats spirited from the amalgam of iron pipes, steel rods and pieces of wood and skeleton that form a drunk xylophone called the Bone Machine which Tom has constructed for himself over the years. "Eyeball Kid" is also equally odd, with Tom's gravely voice alternately sounding like Louie Armstrong, Captain Beefheart and Kim "Betty Davis Eyes" Carnes. It's the first song I've ever heard to sample a livestock auctioneer.
|Tom Waits|| |
The sorrowful ballads Waits is famous for are also plentiful on Mule Variations. His Chivas Regal voice belts out tales of pain and woe by the bucketful on songs like "Picture in a Frame," "Take It with Me" and "Georgia Lee." Just a man, a piano and a broken heart. Listening to them kinda makes you sad, but in a good, cathartic way. You just wanna have a good cry and then down an entire bottle of wine sitting in your underwear.
Waits' bag of tricks is also chockfull of rock songs. The sludgy blues stomp of "Cold Water" and the piercing scrap-metal guitar of "Filipino Box Spring Hog" contain some of the best and nastiest hard rock you'll probably hear this year.
Mule Variations is a truly great record that delivers a potpourri of musical styles, themes and moods, all backed by Tom's melancholy, happy-hour poetry and bartender philosophy.
Tom Petty, Echo
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have also released a new album this month called Echo. I must confess that I've never been much of a Tom Petty fan and while I don't hate him outright, I have found nothing really compelling about him except maybe hearing "Don't Come Around Here No More" or "American Girl" while flipping the dial on my "Tune-a-Fish" shower radio. This is also how I stumbled across his new song "Free Girl Now." Its familiar '60s, garage-inspired progression is sure to make it an instant "classic." It even sounds like something he's written before, perhaps off his
greatest hits album, except changed ever so slightly, so he can't sue himself for copyright infringement. Alas, this is also the case for the rest of Echo. To me, these new songs don't sound all that different from any of his previous work and this undercurrent of sameness gets a little stupefying after awhile. Don't get me wrong, I think he's definitely got a distinct voice and a tried and true method of writing songs, but I just don't find it very interesting.
| ||Tom Petty|
Maybe it's just sublimated anger directed at Tom for doing the soundtrack to the truly awful film Shes the One a few years ago. It's not that the music was bad or anything, it's just that I couldn't hear anything as I was chanting "Ed Burns must die" over and over again in my head.
If you are a Tom Petty fan, then you don't need me to tell you about Echo as you've no doubt bought it already. It's Petty's usual collection of classic rock rave-ups and slower tunes geared more toward makin' love with a hangover. For the uninitiated, however, I wouldn't bother, as there is plenty of other music out there worthy of your attention.
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