Reporter's Notebook: Paul Westerberg's 49:00

While listening to Paul Westerberg's new album for the first time, I made some notes as the song played so that I could keep track of what was going on. Like I mentioned in my column, a sizeable portion of the album is disjointed and layered on top of itself, so these notes were an attempt to distinguish individual "songs" from the mix and keep track of the many changes that happen throughout this schizophrenic, awe-inspiring project.

Enjoy the insanity of my rambling.

Paul Westerberg's 49:00 Notations made upon first listening; each paragraph break marks a new song or sound clip.

The track starts out with a fairly straightforward jangly rock beat and a catchy hook: “Terry, Terry/Who ya gonna marry?” or maybe “Tell me, tell me/Who ya gonna marry.” The song appears to be about learning that the girl you like is getting hitched, setting the scene for another Westerberg album about heartbreak, rejection and feeling like a misfit. As the song fades out (3:56) the next song starts up, like the changeover on a radio program.

Possible title: “With or Without Her.” Another quick-tempo song. One thing I am noticing is that the songs have a distinctly lo-fi feel, making it hard to distinguish the vocals at times and further enforcing the mood of an old AM radio program.

6:56 another fade in, with the ending song and beginning song overlapping. This song is terribly sad. “Something in my life is missing/Something in my life is missing him by a mile.” Seems to be about a long-lost best friend who has fallen out of touch. This one churns along at a slower pace, with a Beatles-y guitar hook and echoing vocals giving it a vaguely psychedelic feel.

10:40 Opening line: “Well it wouldn’t hurt you to see your grandma every now and then/I’m sure your mom would drive.” Another song about trying to connect with the past, this time reflecting on family instead of friends. This song has a distinct country feel, with what sounds like a pedal steel or possibly a lap steel laced through the background. Once again Westerberg is utilizing many different textures and sounds, adding a dreamy element to what would otherwise sound like a cut-and-dry country tune.

A really jarring changeover at 14:15. It sounds like there are three different songs playing at once, and the sound shifts from one speaker to the other. At 14:33 it settles into a new song, an uptempo, dirty blues song that might be called “Devil Raised a Good Boy.” For the first time, Westerberg’s electric guitar work is featured prominently with a longer solo midway through the song and a breakdown with just electric guitar and vocals, which is the first time that the layers were removed from the mix. Another solo at the end comes from lower in the mix, and then we’re off to another song…

“You’re my girl,” he sings at 17:44, a nice poppy interlude.

At 18:09 we’re already onto a new song: “Everyone’s Stupid.” This song has a nice classic rock feel to it, with electric and acoustic guitars layered on top of each other, and Westerberg sounds downright jovial. “I’m practically happy/I’m practically happy” he sings, before taking a guitar solo and fading out.

A few strange voices echo over the mix before the start of another song at 20:50. It’s another short-lived song, somewhat of an interlude.

Eight seconds later, at 20:58, he’s already shifted gears. This song is much grittier, and Westerberg is snarling: “What do you want?/Fuck off!”

Another quick change. At 21:15 we are fading into a new song. Lots of layered harmonies--I think this might be the end to “Everyone’s Stupid,” at least it sounds similar to the harmonies in that previous song. The harmonies are shifted dramatically between the left and right speakers, which is very disorienting on headphones.

After 10-15 seconds of two songs playing at once, we fade into “Goodnight Sweet Prince” at roughly 22:00. Slow and somber, this is the most blatantly sad song on the record, and Westerberg is crooning and holding onto each note for a long time. The song plays cleanly until about 23:35, when he starts overlaying clips of other songs. This is very jarring, and distracts from the emotional sentiment of the song. Sounds jump in and out of the speakers, sometimes only playing on the left or right, sometimes together. At one point I think there are three songs playing at once.

25:55 Another short clip that jumps dramatically from one speaker to the other. “Guess I’ll be going, then,” he sings.

New song already. 26:04. “Gotta Get It Out of My System” is a potential title. This song is more upbeat, and almost seems like an apology for the three previous minutes of emotional despair and heavy-handed layering and fading. The ending of this song seems to have another track layered over it, but it’s hard to tell where the other sounds are coming from.

At 29:26 we launch into a song that, to my ears, sounds the most ‘Mats-like so far. “Come On, Be My Darling” is a possible title. There’s more subtle fading in and out in the background, but I am getting used to the sounds of other songs playing in the background now.

33:06 Really short song. I think he’s singing “The money goes straight to her arm.”

Ten seconds later, at 33:16 we are into a punk-ier song and Westerberg is dropping the names of a bunch of Iron Range cities. He is singing out of tune, and it’s sort of unbearable.

At 34:30 he interjects an uptempo rockabilly song. “I’m clean, I’m clean, I’m clean… My soul is gray, my heart is silver/Please don’t ask me about my liver.” This is another lighthearted song, and he seems to be enjoying cutting the guitars out and leaning into the microphone to sing the chorus.

Seven second interlude at 35:40.

At 35:47 we start another song. A lagging, country-tinged song. The lyrics are about staying in the “rock and roll battle.” The melody sounds really familiar, I can’t put my finger on it. Dammit! That’s bothering me. It sounds just like another song.

Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye” snippet of a cover at 39:53. Another quick clip, can’t tell if it is a cover or not.

39:59 “Born to Be Wild” cover.

40:06 Another new song. This is getting crazy. Not sure if it is a cover or not.

“I’m 18 and I like it” at 40:21.

LOTS of fading in and out and layering on top of each other, hard to distinguish individual songs. Covers: “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Rocketman” by Elton John, “Three’s a Crowd,” “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family.

At 41:52 I think we have our first non-Westerberg-sung contribution, possibly a clip from something. Sounds like a punk girl chanting angrily. You can barely make out what she’s saying, and there is heavy distortion on her voice. On second thought, is that a little kid yelling? Hard to tell. Everything starts to fade out, and at 43:55 we are done.

See also: This week's Gimme Noise column, in which I review 49:00.

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