Grandpaboy / Paul Westerberg

Mono

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Most dedicated Paul Westerberg fans have realized that he is the mysterious Grandpaboy, whose gaunt appearance on the cover of Mono is the supposed "first photograph" of the imaginary singer's face. Where Westerberg's albums after 14 Songs have been uneven but endearing efforts that have moved away from the Replacements' drunken revelry, Grandpaboy has also separated Westerberg from his former band in a completely different manner. This is more traditional, spacious rock & roll that ditches the anxious punk energy of his previous work in favor of an up-tempo swagger that is similar to Keith Richards' solo material. This direction is the natural extension of 14 Songs, which tried to do the same thing but was too concerned with covering all the bases to truly pull it off. Recorded entirely in mono, the production gives it the reverb-drenched feel of '50s rock, a direct influence on his sound and songwriting since the early days of the Replacements. "Anything but That" is a sweaty, high-octane rocker than evokes the sound and feel of Exile on Main Street-era Stones. "2 Days 'Til Tomorrow" is a poppy stab at the same style, but the chorus is straight out of the Don't Tell a Soul side of Westerberg's songwriting. "High Time" is an excellent power pop anthem that starts the album on an unpretentious high note. And the gorgeous album-closer, "AAA," is a lush rocker that proves Westerberg could combine the naïve charm of his solo material with the sloppy grace of the Replacements if he really wanted to. Like most Westerberg projects, there is some obvious filler material between the good stuff. "Knock It Right Out," "Eyes Like Sparks," and a few others are respectable rockers that simply don't have any distinguishing characteristics. Westerberg's fractured wail has transformed into a thin, delicate croon through the years, which makes it easier to understand him but occasionally robs his music of its punch. For example, "Kickin' the Stall" is a very good song, but it would have been that little bit better if he could have put the emphasis behind it that it needs. Without the inclusion of ballads or punk-influenced rockers, this album only features one ingredient of the overall Westerberg sound. But since his ballads are often times overwrought and his punkier material tends to turn into mindless thrashing, then maybe this is what he should stick to. If Grandpaboy is the closest Westerberg wants to get to his former sound, then this is a pleasant reminder of how great he once was and how good he can still be.

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