Paul Westerberg Folker

After years as a drifter on the major label highways, Westerberg cannot be stopped since taking full control of his career three years ago. The result has been a reconnection with his essence; the once wise-ass punk now grown-up and fighting cynicism in a search for anything worthwhile to believe in. On prior releases, Stereo/Mono and Come Feel Me Tremble, this battle was typically offset by a few gratuitous (but glorious) flat-out rockers. Yet on Folker, Westerberg seems to have deliberately allowed his sentimental side free rein and paid extra attention to his lyrics. Fans of his ballads will particularly appreciate this, but that’s not to suggest that the album’s tone is downbeat in any way. Westerberg’s pop skills are still prominent in the rough-hewn form he has come to prefer. Aside from throwaway opener "Jingle,” a fuck-you to the music biz, each song is a poignant vignette, offering tempting insights into how the original slacker is handling middle age. Most touching is "My Dad,” in its description of how the elder man has never seen his son play, but still enjoys seeing the family name in the newspaper. While that relationship may be healthy, self-doubt is on full display throughout the rest of the album. He regrets losing a past love in "23 Years Ago,” and faces other adult neuroses in "As Far As I Know,” "What About Mine?” and "How Can You Like Him?” But as always, Westerberg’s songwriting gifts pull him through, even though he can’t find any answers. Thankfully, that’s also good enough for the rest of us who can’t find any answers either. (Vagrant / Fat Possum)