Looking back on the Replacements frontman’s solo debut
When Paul Westerberg released his first solo album, 14 Songs on June 15, 1993, he already had a fabled history behind him.
Primarily because he was a member of The Replacements, the Twin Cities rock band that never quite achieved the wider recognition that many thought would ultimately come their way.
Originally signed to the Minneapolis label Twin/Tone Records, the band recorded three albums and an EP before being signed to Sire Records in 1985. Four albums followed, but by then, Westerberg had become the band’s sole constant. When they recorded their final effort, the aptly titled All Shook Down, Westerberg had taken the reigns completely, making it, in essence, a Westerberg solo project.
Ironically, Westerberg’s tenure with The Replacements began entirely by chance. He was working as a janitor in the offices of U.S. Senator David Durenberger and on a walk home one day, happened to hear the sounds of a neighborhood band practicing the Yes standard “Roundabout.” Instantly infatuated, he somehow managed to convince the band’s singer that the other members of the band were plotting to get rid of him. Rather than face that indignation, the singer quit, leaving an opening for Westerberg to step in.
After being the band’s last man standing years later, Westerberg opted to step out on his own. His first individual offerings were a pair of songs, “Waiting for Somebody” and “Dyslexic Heart,” that were included on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film Singles. Other tracks tapped for film and television would follow, but it was the release of 14 Songs a year later that solidified his solo standing.
In an interview that was included in a booklet accompanying that accompanied the album’s release, Westerberg said the album title was a reference to the novel Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger.
In truth, the music on the album differs little from the sound The Replacements were known for all long. Most of the songs consist of straight-ahead no-nonsense rockers, with “Someone I Once Knew,” “World Class Fad,” “Dice Behind Your Shades,” “Silver Naked Ladies,” “Something Is Me,” “Down Love,” and “Mannequin Shop” more or less maintaining a similar momentum. An occasional ballad, such as “First Glimmer” and “Runaway Wind,” intrudes on the energy, but all in all, it’s a decidedly demonstrative effort overall.
Westerberg himself was responsible for the lead vocals and guitars, although several notable musicians also took part in the proceedings — among them, former Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan, one-time Replacements producer Matt Wallace contributing bass, percussion and backing vocals, Joan Jett who supplied backing vocals, and seasoned drummers Michael Urbano and Brian McLeod. According to those notes in the reissue’s booklet, the original intent was to record the album with a concise combo featuring drummer Josh Kelly and former Georgia Satellites bassist Rick Price, but the chemistry didn’t click, and the two were relegated to only one track, the album opener “Knockin’ On Mine.”
Fortunately, the varied array of musicians didn’t detract from the essential unity and cohesiveness that characterized the album overall. It’s a tight and taut set of songs, one which not only recalled Westerberg’s previous work with The Replacements, but also set the standard for the albums that would follow — Eventually, Suicaine Gratification, Stereo, Come Feel Me Tremble, Folker and his collaboration with Juliana Hatfield, Wild Stab. Westerberg also recorded two LPs and an EP under the aegis of Grandpaboy, all in an attempt to diversify to some degree. An EplP shared on BandCamp by a one-off alias called Dry Wood Garage would follow as well.
Still, it’s the fourteen songs on 14 Songs that continue to represent Westerberg at his best. Suffice it to say, no Replacements are needed.