Made to Be Broken

Westerberg replaces himself.

NOBODY EVER FORCED Paul Westerberg to move to the suburbs. Quite the opposite in Minneapolis proper, the ex-Replacements commandante enjoys a degree of veneration usually reserved for local news anchors and founders of successful mini-doughnut franchises. It's too bad. Compulsory relocation would have added an extra measure of poignance to "Meet Me Down the Alley," an unadorned acoustic suicide ballad lamenting the tedium of life in lawnsville and one of two tracks on Westerberg's new Come Feel Me Tremble (Vagrant) that sounds like he was exactly himself when he wrote them. The song is a solid shot, if a fairly inexpensive one"Kiss Me on the Bus," "Skyway," and "The Ledge" all neatly woven into a heartfelt nod to Replacements fans and a potentially great B-side. There's another possible B-side, too, "Crackle and Drag (Original Version)."

The remainder of Come Feel Me Ramble could just as easily have been called Mayonnaise on the Tracks I Don't Even Bother to Cover, or maybe More Fun With Keith Richards' Random Hook Generator (Home Edition). Sure, Blusterberg always has been more voice than vision (with one exception, Stink's "Go" anticipated the whole Nevermind thing a decade or so before the fact), and he wears his influences like a cross between a Carmen Miranda hat and an American flag pin. Still, his songwriting as a Replacement conveyed the impression that he was trying, that he had emotions, that he wanted to get noticed, if not get laid.

Most of this record sounds like Wursterberg fashioned it out of habit, like a sandwich after a long, hard night of mental air guitara sleepwalking sitcom dad raiding rock's refrigerator for the light. That's the more attractive proposition. If he did, in fact, drop this Styrofoam anvil on purpose, Rusterberg needs to be taken in for questioning, numero uno being why? Is he trying to rekindle the flame that made Ron Wood and Nils Lofgren such exciting solo artists in the '70s? Is he trying to paint a sonic portrait of Tommy Stinson's hair? Is there any difference between the two? And what shadowy pact with which imp of the mundane prompted him to close Come Feel Me Crumble with a cover of Jackson Browne's "These Days," when any number of equally lugubrious Dan Fogelberg songs would have filled the autobiography-by-proxy orifice dandily? Goodness knows, both bergs could only have benefited from the resulting confusion. I can even see the video. No, not the documentary DVD of the same title as the new albummore like something you'd find on VH1 at 3 a.m., with bobbleheads and "I'll Be You" and North Pole footage. What is it David Bowie says at the end of The Man Who Fell to Earth? "At least I've still got my voice"? Somewhere, Bob Stinson is laughing his housedress off.

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