After releasing a carefully considered album every three years during the 1990s, Paul Westerberg became exceptionally prolific in the first few years of the 21st century, creating raw and spontaneous solo records in his basement studio. The liner notes for Stereo state that it was mostly recorded live in the middle of the night, and that any imperfections in the recording were incorporated into the record. Several songs stop suddenly as the tape runs out, while the performances are often ragged, but this spontaneous approach breathes life into these songs, and this set is rarely less than engaging.
The one man band approach creates surprisingly climactic arrangements at times (the anthemic ‘Don’t Want Never’) and at other times it’s pushing into alt-country territory with its ramshackle feel. Westerberg’s hoarse vocals are more endearing than ever, he’s still throwing in memorable couplets, and in my opinion at least, Stereo is his strongest work outside The Replacements’ mid-1980s peak.
Favourites include the plaintive ‘Dirt To Mud’, the soaring ‘Don’t Want Never’, the delicate folk of ‘Nothing To No One’, and ‘We May Be The Ones’. There’s a sense of almost helpless resignation to songs like ‘Let The Bad Times Roll’ and ‘Got You Down’, that’s arguably even deeper than previous Replacements’ classics like ‘Unsatisfied’ and ‘Here Comes A Regular’.
If you’re a Replacements fan and you haven’t bothered with Westerberg’s solo career, this and Grandpaboy’s Mono in a single package is too good a bargain to pass up.