Yes, we all know where he came from. And yes, we all know he’s legendary as the frontman of one of the greatest outfits of indie rock ever. But here’s a thought worth a pill or two: Isn’t it about time the name Paul Westerberg stands on its own in the annals of rockdom?
Paul, as in Westerberg, as in songwriter extraordinare, as in the composer of five solo albums. Widely acclaimed as one of the finest lyricists in rock. And that’s not even counting his turn as the elusive Grandpaboy, his recent adventures in stereo and mono, nor his brilliant inclusions on the SINGLES and the first-season FRIENDS soundtracks…or heck, the immortalization of his name in Heathers high school halls. What is a Suicaine, anyway? Don’t know, but it’s all been resoundingly gratifiying—and even more so with the release of this year’s COME FEEL ME TREMBLE, the latest in this artist’s stable of solo work.
COME FEEL ME TREMBLE started as a largely fan-shot documentary chronicling Westerberg’s 2002 tour and the Replacements legend (with some directing help from one “Otto Zithromax”—guess who? Yup. You guessed right). The film premiered in July at the Noise Pop Festival, prompting praise on the level of “[Westerberg] comes off as just about the coolest man on the planet, full of hilarious quips and a charming world-weariness that springs eternal” (SF Gate).
Westerberg’s profile of late has been decidedly low-key, insofar as any artist consistently delivering thoughtful, critically acclaimed work for the past few years can be. So why a documentary now? Well, why not? Plus, the project’s latest incarnation is a soundtrack showcasing 14 new tunes by the frontman—a solid collection of music that furthers the notion that this, indeed, is the work of an artist who can stand alone and ignore his influential past as he chooses.
Of course, this isn’t to say that his legendary status isn’t present in Westerberg’s latest. Those lyrics, those gritty-yet-buoyant melodies, that twangy edge of what would eventually become widely known as Alt-Country (it ain’t for nothing that the Austin Chronicle called Westerberg “the most important post-punker to pick up a guitar”), the marriage of earnest emotion with sloppy abandon…it’s all showcased on COME FEEL ME TREMBLE to a fine degree.
However. We’re discussing Westerberg in the context of his own genius. Westerberg’s grown up now, and writing tunes in his own Minnesota cellar all by his lonesome. No more mentions of legendary status needed in this guy’s career, right? But just for those who need a bit of persuasion…well, there’s nothing wrong with that, we suppose.
“Hillbilly Junk” and “Knockin’ Em Back” (as if the titles weren’t enough?) are classic stuff, recalling the best of the sing-song, clap-yer-hands era of Westerberg’s pre-solo career. “Pine Box” and “Soldier Of Misfortune” have the old familiar devil-may-care weariness and searing guitar licks that go down so nicely. Need some tears in your beer? “Meet Me Down The Alley” is one of Paul’s signature ballads. YOU know the ones we’re talking about. File this with “Answering Machine” and “Here Comes A Regular.” Yeah. It’s that good.
If you’ve been keeping up with the journey and know your solo Paul, you’ll recognize some of the elements of his earliest solo endeavors. “Carefully messy” is a good way to describe it (thanks, Dave Eggers), and tunes such as “What A Day For A Night,” “Makin’ Me Go,” and “My Daydream” recall Westerberg’s first forays into exploring his pure gift for thoughtful rock.
In all, COME FEEL ME TREMBLE is a fitting retrospective of a very individual career helmed by a very retrospective individual. Coupled with a documentary spotlighting the heart and soul of Westerberg’s inherent irreverent place in indie-rock history, the album’s an elusive moment in musical time when one can actually separate The Man from The Band. It’s been a long time coming, but Paul’s finally hit that point where he’s a legend in and of himself. The maturation of an artist has overshadowed the punk whose job, as he himself claimed, was “to fail on as big a scale as possible.”
But this should come as no surprise. Listen to COME FEEL ME TREMBLE with your head (put your heart aside for just a sec), and you’ll realize that IT…all of IT, the journey from a Minneapolis cellar to, well, another Minneapolis cellar…was Paul Westerberg. All along. Here comes a regular, indeed.