[Author’s Note: I have no idea whether at this point in his life Paul actually drinks, and I do know that he could beat the stuffing out of me if he wanted to, so, please, realize this is just a hypothesis]
Paul Westerberg will never get old. He might slow down, and at some point he will die, but he never ages, nor does his music. Rather, the reason I offer the reader for the decreasing tempo, increasingly acoustic instrumentation, and increased lyrical honesty of his past few albums is not maturity, but instead something that I’d call alcoholism. Let’s look at the past, shall we? During his time with The Replacements, right up until “Pleased To Meet Me,” Paul was a raging alcoholic, and his music reflected such brilliantly, with chaos and undeniable power. With the coming of the somber and totally underrated “Don’t Tell a Soul” and the downright pathetic “All Shook Down,” he lost his band, lost his rowdy nature, and, I’d assume, stopped drinking as much. As his sporadic solo career begun, you could see the bottle coming back, with the seething (if overproduced) 14 Songs and Suicane Gratification. Since 2001, he has released several albums, each showing not an increased level maturity, but instead a further return to the reckless, sloppy as hell, and honest style that accompanies the raging man after he’s gotten a few beers into him, as he’s sitting on the couch, laughing at everything, and eventually puking in the bushes.
You can see it everywhere on Folker, his most recent offering, starting with opener “Jingle (Buy it).” The track must’ve seemed like a cutting satire on the music industry after a few shots of whisky, but when sober, it comes off as nothing more than a slightly entertaining chuckle set to two and a half chords (by the way Paul, you’re not on a major label any more. Stop complaining). With the second track, “When Will We Arrive,” the album settles into an ambling pace that spans nearly the rest of Folker. Anyone thinking Westerberg has mellowed with age needs simply to hear his caustic sneer on the songs chorus of “We’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t / But one thing is true, if I’m wrong, I’m not alone.”
We next move onto the stage of drunkenness in which the drinker, stripped of the inhibitions of his or her mind, is able to express emotions more clearly than ever before. It can be seen in the simplicity of “My Dad’s” conclusion; “My dad, I love” or the near- embarrassed whisper of “I love you” in the one of Westerberg’s finest love songs, “Looking Up In Heaven.” These moments of unguarded sentiment are to be treasured.
Two other stages haunt the drunkard: first, the outbursts of anger, where the only way to get a point across is to smash the glass coffee table with a cheap wooden chair. Yeah, you have moments of sheer aggression, with some of his most propulsive rockers since Tim. His backing band, while never precise, managed a level of synergy on the driving “As Far As I Know” and the ranting “Gun Shy.”
Secondly, the pure garbage, the musical equivalent of the slurred conversations which involve far too many uses of the words “society” “façade” and “dude.” There has never been an album bearing Westerberg’s name that didn’t have tracks one gets sick of before the first listen is complete. Here are their names and their crimes, “23 Years Ago” for being overly sentimental, “What About Mine” for sheer boredom, and “Folk Star” for possessing the same one-liner appeal as the album’s opening cut, and dragging it out for over four minutes.
Such are the perils of inebriation. Much like that party in which you spent half the night involved in intimate conversations before jumping in the pool with all your clothes on and almost punching some guy in the face, Folker is far from a perfect record or a steady record, or even an easy record. In fact, its probably Westerberg’s most “warts and all” recording thus far in his career. But in the same way that at the party you’re willing to put up with the occasional rant, the broken doorknob and the smashed window because of everything else occurring, Folker is nothing less than an intriguing, wildly uneven, and yet altogether compelling release.