"Throwing small shadows"
The former The Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg had been the main creative force behind his former band for the last few years of their career, so in the early 90s, him transitioning to a solo career on the same record label was a natural move for him. Not that he leapt straight into recording his solo debut album. Instead Westerberg contributed couple of songs to the well received soundtrack to Singles, one of which, “Waiting for Somebody” proved that he had all the potential to be a sizeable alternative rock star as the decade progressed.
Thus emboldened, Westerberg unleashed 14 Songs on the public, an album which showed that he was a multi-faceted solo star, quite capable of knowing out a slow burning acoustic number, as he was rocking it up with the band, or delivering pure pop rock confectionery. You know, just like he done in The Replacements.
14 Songs is the sound of Westerberg going all out to show just how much he’d grown up since those chaotic early punk years. By this point in his career, Westerberg had matured into a songwriter of some note, although he’d lost much of the thrilling sloppiness on display in his former band’s early years. Songs like “World Class Fad”, “Black Eyed Susan” and “First Glimmer” positioned him as a sort of less angsty older brother to the grunge hoards that had flooded onto the music scene in the early 90s and a more rocking contemporary to bigger alt-rock names like R.E.M..
Although 14 Songs has aged, it’s not aged as badly as a lot of rock music from the 90s. If I have an issue with the album it’s that it lacks focus, to the point where it seems far longer than it’s 48 minute run time. Perhaps a solution would have been to sequence the album so that the mellow material on one half of the album, and the noisier material on the other, in Rust Never Sleeps style. However, that only really works if you open with the quieter material, and none of those songs scream ‘debut solo album opener’. Another solution would be to release a pair of mini albums, but chances are that would have been cost prohibitive and a bit of a gamble for both Westerberg and label Sire Records. The album as released is a little scattershot, and perhaps doesn’t flow as well as it should.
Where 14 Songs is good, it’s great – any rock act would be happy with a tune like “Silver Naked Ladies”, however, it also gave notice that Westerberg would continue to be as hit and miss as his previous band. As such, it’s a natural continuation of his career, especially when you consider that the final Replacements album was effectively a solo debut for him in all but name.
Everything considered 14 Songs is an interesting period piece. Not all of it works, but as a time capsule of the state of alternative rock music in the early 90s, it’s a fascinating listen deserving of rediscovery.