Calvin Johnson's first album released under his own name is quite literally a solo disc -- except for duet vocals on two cuts, What Was Me finds the former Beat Happening/Halo Benders vocalist all by himself in the studio, with only his guitar for company (and on a few cuts he even dispenses with his instrument, belting out his songs in glorious a cappella). While Johnson has often emphasized the playful and childlike side of his personality in his music, What Was Me reveals a new level of maturity and focus; while he hasn't turned into Leonard Cohen, Johnson displays a surer and firmer command of his slightly craggy baritone here, and his songs, most of which deal with the ups and downs of romantic relationships, suggest a deliberate move away from the faux-naïve style of his early work (if he doesn't always sound like a man of the world, at very least he's moved up to college freshman level). But the fearless emotional honesty of his days with Beat Happening is still the hallmark of his music, and if he sounds older and wiser on cuts like "The Past Comes Back to Haunt Me" and "Love Will Come Back Again," his coy but insistent sensuality and his open-hearted longing for love still resonate. In short, indie rock's weirdest romantic still wants to hold your hand, and What Was Me is one of his most pleasurable love notes to date.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming