Published Jan 22, 2016Even when he was a young punk with the Replacements, there was an old soul at the heart of Paul Westerberg's music. Opening his latest and first album as the I Don't Cares with fellow alt-rock lifer Julianna Hatfield, Westerberg sings, "I'm back if you'll have me," before adding the caveat, "and you'll have me just how I am." It seems that, even following the high profile reunion of the Mats at an age when most of his peers are firmly in dad-rock mode, Westerberg hasn't abandoned that old self-loathing/affirming dichotomy.
Though billed as a duo, his voice dominates, both figuratively and literally, so it's hard to say who contributes what on this 16-track debut. But Wild Stab is the highest profile release either artist has offered up in some time; both Westerberg and Hatfield have remained active, self-releasing reliably consistent material at a steady clip, but this feels like the most focused work either has done in years.
Loose production dominates, suggesting the songs were tossed off in a take or two, leaving several tracks feeling undercooked, but there's a sophistication to the songwriting that reveals the years of collective experience on display here. At its core, the record is about relationships — hardly groundbreaking material. And yet Westerberg and Hatfield are able to weave a sort of grounded realism to their music, perhaps the one significant nod to their increasing ages. The sweet "Kissing Break" finds the two at their most idealistic, while "Sorry for Tomorrow Night," offers a glimpse at the last vestiges of Westerberg's famed self-destructive streak.
The I Don't Cares won't return either artist to previous commercial peaks, nor does it attempt to; both have been around the music industry block too many times to harbour such illusions of grandeur. Still, it finds Westerberg and Hatfield working at the peak of their powers, freed from anyone's expectations except their own. (Dry Wood)