Not for nothing did Paul Westerberg once don the name Grandpaboy -- he's proud to be a curmudgeon, sniping from the sidelines, holding onto his boozy rock and folk no matter what modern-day trends may be. Just because he doesn't follow trends doesn't mean he's oblivious to them, and his rush-recorded and rush-released 49:00 fits snugly into the digital Zeitgeist of 2008. Released on Amazon's MP3 store somewhere during the week of July 21, because they were the only digital retailer willing to accommodate Westerberg's price point of 49 cents, 49:00 is a 43-minute full-length presented as a single MP3 file with no names for its dozen or so songs, and no breaks between them either, forcing listeners to hear the whole thing as a piece. This seamless structure echoes fellow Minneapolis rocker Prince's decision to sequence initial pressings of Lovesexy as a single CD track, but 49:00 lends itself to an uninterrupted flow better than the Purple One's 1988 album, as it's a tapestry of partial tunes, melodic snippets, and complete songs, some seguing and some spliced together. Although there are enough full-blown songs to anchor this album, much of the music here wouldn't make sense on a proper album, as it floats in and out of focus, sometimes overlapping with an existing tune, sometimes offering just a tantalizing flash of melody or formative riff. But far from being a frustrating collection of unfinished home demos, 49:00 plays as a complete work, where the raggedness is part of the point -- and its coarse four-track surfaces feel defiant in an age of computer recording. There's undeniably an element of ragged rebellion in the rough-hewn creation of 49:00, but Westerberg has always sounded best when he's on the fringe -- and while this was delivered in a high-tech fashion, the album, with all its unfinished surfaces and frayed fragments, is old-fashioned college rock filled with fragile ballads, rude rock & roll, dead-end detours, and smart-ass jokes, like the classic rock oldies Westerberg flips through at the end of the album. Of all of Westerberg's solo albums, 49:00 comes closest to recapturing the spirit of the Replacements, but it doesn't do so by doggedly re-creating the 'Mats' drunken mess; instead, Westerberg reconnects to the joyous, reckless sense of adventure that fueled his earliest work, and by doing so his scruffiness is once again endearing and hard to resist.
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