Westerberg's "49:00" and "5:05"

It wasn’t that long ago that the album was the ultimate statement of an artist. Throughout the course of 35 – 40 minutes, we shared a journey with the band and songwriters that told us exactly what was going on in their life during that period of their life.
With vinyl, and even cassette and 8-tracks, you were forced to endure the ebb and flow of the artist’s statement. Sure, you could lift the needle and go to the next song, or fast-forward or rewind to a desired track, but it was much easier (and enjoyable) to go with the flow.
Due to being immersed in an entire album, it wasn’t just the hits that became fan favorites. There was never a chance a song like “Jungleland”, “Unsatisfied”, or “Moonlight Mile” would be released as a single, but fans of Bruce Springsteen, the Replacements, and the Stones respectively point to those songs as their greatest achievements.
With the introduction of the CD, and now portable music devices, those times are over. If you decide you don’t like a song on a CD, you just hit a button to go to the next track, while Ipods are almost always set on shuufle (and I’m just as guilty as the next person).
In response, most artists have completely given up on the album as an artform (CD’s are still albums, by the way). Most releases now consist of two or three wannabe hits followed by a dozen or so filler tracks. It’s almost as if we’ve gone back to the pre-Beatles/Dylan era where albums were treated as nothing but tie-in product.
So what happens to the artist who wants the album to continue to be their ultimate statement? Some acts, such as Radiohead, simply refuse to jump on the Itunes bandwagon. Unfortunately, with declining CD sales it’s hard for an act to justify missing out on the growing download market.
Paul Westerberg has come up with a solution. On “June 49”, with little notice, he put up a 49-minute album called “49:00” on Amazon and Tunecore for the price of…you guessed it, 49 cents.
Ok, I’m sure some people are saying “so what?” Isn’t Westerberg just jumping in on the Radiohead/NIN bandwagon of “almost” giving his music away? No, what separates “49:00” from earlier online-only releases is the fact that Westerberg is bringing back the “album as a statement” mentality.
How does Westerberg do this? Well, “49:00” consists of one 49-minute track (actually 43:55 – more on that later) consisting of at least two dozen individual songs. The release starts off relatively straightforward – three catchy midtempo rockers (“Who You Gonna Marry”, “Kentucky ‘Risin’”, and “Something In My Life Is Missing”) that fit in perfectly with the stronger material of “Mono” and “Folker”. On first listen, the thought process was that it would be simple enough to just cut this release down into the individual tracks.
Starting with the next track, the country-ish “Visitor’s Day”, this plan breaks down (not that it has stopped people, though). Shortly before the three-minute mark, another track (“Thoroughbred”) is brought in for a few seconds before yet another song (“Devil Raised a Good Boy”) airs as an almost complete track.
At this point, it gets even more bizarre. Songs fragments come and go, with few of them lasting more than thirty seconds, and many of them seeming to have the potential to rank with his best material ever (the raucous “What Do You Want?” being a prime example). At one point, while he’s baring his heart and soul about the death of his father a few years ago (“Goodnight Sweet Prince”), another song cuts in on the left channel and run simultaneously for a minute or so. It’s almost like Westerberg has created a melodic “Revolution 9”.
More fragments and full songs take up the next fifteen minutes or so, including a rawer version of the previously-released “Outta My System”, and the poppy “C’mon, Be My Darling”. Finally, after a wild run of short segments, Paul gives us a medley of covers of the Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Steppenwolf, Alice Cooper, Hank Williams, Elton John, and an almost complete version of the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You”. Surprisingly, it works.
Finally, we get to the conclusion – a punkish tune called “Oh Yeah” featuring Paul’s pre-teen son Johnny. Wow, what a trip, and quite possibly Westerberg’s greatest artistic achievement ever.
Yes, there are plenty of individual triumphs interspersed throughout the track, but releasing it as a whole piece of work is a great move. The whole is much more powerful than any particular moment, even if finding the time to play 44 straight minutes of music can be demanding.
Unfortunately, the album is no longer on the market. After topping the Amazon charts for two weeks, it was mysteriously pulled without explanation. Apparently, the cover medley led to threats of litigation, even if none of the tunes (with the exception of the Partridge Family song) lasted more than a couple of seconds.
This is why I love Westerberg, though. Rather than just roll over, he responded with another new track a few days after “49:00” was pulled. “5:05” (get it?) is spiritually aligned with the Pistols “EMI” and the Clash’s “Complete Control”, but instead of record companies it is the lawyers who receives his wrath. The track begins with sped-up German and British voices talking about Hitler. After a slowed-down voice implores the listener to “break forth in joyous song”, Westerberg begins his rant about people “that want a lawsuit”. Concluding with a few “f-you’s”, we get a clue just as to who is behind the lawsuit when the track concludes with Paul singing “Oh, darling” (the line, not the song). Yes, it appears that it’s the Beatles who are not happy with the use of “Hello, Goodbye” on “49:00”.
While it’s disconcerting that it is no longer available, the album (and “5:05”) indicates that Westerberg is again ready to return to the public eye. Even more encouraging is that he’s obviously in fighting shape, both musically and emotionally. Manager Darren Hill claims that he has dozens of songs ready to be released, but has yet to make a decision as to what he wants to do with them. Let’s hope we see more “albums” in the near future, whether they’re online-only releases or traditional CD’s.


Christine said…
a new post :) I am learning alot slowly but surely!

Anonymous said…
Widespread Panic on Austin City Limits Saturday night. Still think they were one of the better bands to come to Sioux Falls in past years.


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