By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Which, in the end, is the album's greatest strength. When you listen to "Self-Defense," "Actor in the Street," "Sunrise Always Listens," "Born for Me" -- just a voice and an instrument or two -- you hear Paul Westerberg, not "Paul Westerberg, former leader of . . ." When it is suggested that the pared-down approach helps make this the Westerberg album that finally transcends the Replacements' catalog, he agrees to a point, but also sees the strands that connect these songs to his body of work.
"You know, they don't exist anymore, but I could play you cassette tapes from 1979 that I wrote in my mom and dad's basement on the acoustic guitar, and then I'd hop on the number 6 bus and go over to Bob and Tommy's house and we'd learn it. But before they ever heard it, it was that, and that's what this shit is," says Westerberg. "In a way, this is like 11 of what I would put on a record once. It's like 'Here Comes a Regular' and 'Answering Machine,' and every record had one of these. I'll even be fair and say it's like 10 of them. Maybe there's a rocker that's there for whatever reason."
One big difference is that the plaintive moments in the past were usually leavened by Westerberg's humor, as acerbic as it may have been. Not this time, though. It's as if he decided all at once he no longer needs to hide behind jokes or screaming guitars.
"There's no comic relief whatsoever. It was not really by design, but I could not come up with one single humorous statement. There's borderline whimsy, but there's nothing funny about this one. There's nothing at all humorous about it."
WESTERBERG SURRENDERS HIS PLATE TO AN EAGER busboy. During the meal, we've been attended to by just about everyone on staff. One wonders if he's been found out. Sure enough, as soon as he leaves for the bathroom, a 30ish waiter angles up to ask if Paul Westerberg is actually in the house. When his suspicions are confirmed, he gushes that his girlfriend is a huge Replacements fan. I tell the waiter that Westerberg has a new record coming out.
"Is it good?" he asks.
"Yeah, it's really good," I reply.
"Oh, great," he says, genuinely pleased. "I can't wait to tell her. What's it called?"
The interlude is a reminder that Westerberg's legacy casts a long shadow. When he returns he is asked if it's difficult living with his past.
"See, I don't perceive it. I've gone to great lengths to not picture myself as something . . ." He stops suddenly and shifts gears, leaning forward to make his point. "I mean, I know how good I am. You're at a certain level and you know that you're the shit. I know it. My ego isn't fragile. But I still work harder than ever to weed out the crap. I mean, I know it now when it's false. And it's really simple, because it's usually your first thought if you're in the right mood. It's right and correct. Then you judge, is this worthy of a song? If it isn't, you throw it away. If it is, you go with it.
"And then, later, you realize that 'Oh, man, if I put this out, I'm gonna hurt somebody's feelings, and somebody's gonna think I'm a suicidal junkie, and somebody's gonna think this and that,' and it's like, 'Fuck 'em.' Are you an artist or not? You just have to do what you do."
With that, Westerberg steps outside to smoke a thin cigar. He looks pretty good in his nice, grown-up clothes, all ready to fall on his sword again. And he makes you want to smile once more for the noble losers.