Dead Man Shake

Anti-/Fat Possum

Paul Westerberg, rock poet? Sure. Pick any three Replacements songs. Pop song interpreter? You bet. Dig on any of the dozens of covers the ‘Mats mangled from day one. Bluesman?

Not in a million years.

One of the defining characteristics of punk rock (of which Westerberg was aligned, correctly or not, in the early days of the Replacements) was that it was one of the first American musical forms that didn’t rely on the 12 chord blues structure as a building block. It was built primarily via the Ramones, Television and all those other New York rockers, as a homage to either ’60s radio pop (the Ramones) or a combination of free jazz and the Grateful Dead (Television). If you had tossed a Muddy Waters lick in the middle of a punk rock tune, the scenesters would have run ya out of town on a rail.

So when Westerberg attempts to portray himself as a blues rocker, ala Jon Spencer or the White Stripes, he never comes close to being convincing, but rather as somewhat pathetic. His lyrics of defeatist cynicism sound glaringly out of place against the cookie-cutter blues rifts he’s appropriated, and they ignore the central tenet of the blues. Which is, life might momentarily have me down, but I’m not quitting. The character of “Grandpaboy” — or Westerberg, for that matter — gave up a long time ago. In “Souvenirs” he rails against graveyards and pawn shops for stealing the memories of his past. He has no room to talk.

It is understood that Grandpaboy was Westerberg’s way of tossing all of us hardcore ‘Mats fans — you know, all of us who find his solo work soulless and aloof — a bone. Paul would make crude, loose records that resembled the sound (but not the heart) of a band and an era that he publicly disavowed. Well, it never really worked very well, and now, it’s gratingly bad. This record is a sneering snub at any one who cherishes Westerberg’s past work, and a callous theft of a musical form that deserves better treatment than to be used as a musical paint-by-numbers kit for a has-been poet.

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