Open Season is the soundtrack to an animated childrens’ movie, but it largely sounds like a Paul Westerberg album. If anything, the expectation to make a more commercial album makes Westerberg revert back to his mid-1990s sound, but with the occasional lyric referring to nature. More problematically, the seven new Westerberg performances share album space with an assortment of oddities, namely the Talking Heads standard ‘Wild Wild Life’, two songs from Cake spin-off Deathray, and a brief reprise from Pete Yorn, while the least emotionally sophisticated song in the Westerberg catalogue, ‘Good Day’ from Eventually, is resurrected here. Westerberg still dominates enough to be the major focus, writing ten of the album’s twelve tunes, but its patchwork nature means that Open Season is one of his weaker albums by default. That’s somewhat of a shame, as the new songs on the album are strong, and it’s interesting to hear Westerberg return to a full band and with studio production.
Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson reunites with Westerberg on the album’s two most bouncy songs, the irrepressibly chirpy ‘Love You In The Fall’ and the goofy ‘Right To Arm Bears’. ‘All About Me’ is a return to the bratty Westerberg of The Replacements, without ever overstepping a PG rating, while ‘Any Better Than This’ rollicks along on a jaunty melody. While most of the songs are relatively lightweight, the pensive and acoustic ‘Whisper Me Luck’ packs plenty of emotional punch, and only lines like “when the morning comes/we’ll run for the pines” are there to remind the listener that it’s in a movie about animals
There’s enough good Westerberg music to make Open Season necessary for fans like me – maybe paying full price is excessive for what amounts to little more than an EP of new Westerberg material, but what’s there is well worth hearing.