Album Review: The I Don't Cares - Wild Stab

Minneapolis was a magical place in the early 80s. Sure, Seattle defined popular music in the early 90s, and Detroit defined it for the Civil Rights movement, but no "scene" had the range that Minneapolis provided during the Reagan days.

From DIY funk music (Prince and The Time) to abrasive punk (Husker Du) to horn infused pop (The Suburbs), all these disparate entities were allowed room to flourish.

Where Soul Asylum would embody the whole punk-band-gets-signed-and-has-a-hit-with-a-non-typical-ballad cliche ("Runaway Train"), they were actually the first band to do that successfully from the area. Husker Du thrived with a soul-baring yet catchy take on punk rock up until 1987, when they signed to Warner Brothers and quickly imploded.

The Replacements, with their shambolic lead singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg did a similar move in the late 80s.

Signing to Sire and firing their lightning-in-a-bottle lead guitarist Bob Stinson they released a few nearly adult-contempary albums with diminishing returns up until their final show at the Taste of Chicago 1991.

Little did the band know that 1991 would actually usher in a complete sea change for alternative rock music, making the classic Replacements albums liked 1984's Let It Be and 1985's Tim touchstones for a new generation of apathetic slackers. If they could have held on like Soul Asylum perhaps they could have had the pleasure of reaping just what they had sowed for years.

Westerberg went on to have a solo career and given the lead off track on the iconic soundtrack to Singles, so there was a sense that he was finally respected as a godfather to the grunge era.

After spending the past twenty years mining a melodic, yet scrappy sound with a string of moderately successful solo records, he reformed the late 80s version of the Replacements to play a few festivals such as an amazing 2013 stop at Chicago's Riot Fest. However, Westerberg remained cynical of the greatest hits circuit.

To him it felt like a cheap payday and after the last tour stop during last summer he proclaimed it to be the end of The Replacements... This time for good.

So in late 2015 when Paul announced a collaboration with Juliana Hatfield (The I Don't Cares), it was certainly manna for any fan of late 80s college rock. Juliana, certainly a powerhouse herself, embodied the detached cool of the era, making noise with Blake Babies, The Lemonheads and The Juliana Hatfield Three.

Her bass work and cooing backups really set The Lemonheads breakthrough album It's A Shame About Ray into the stratosphere of classic albums.

Wild Stab, the new full length album, certainly feels like a Paul solo album with Juliana only taking lead vocals for a few of the songs. Paul's songwriting style is so singular that it almost feels like we have heard this material before.

In fact, a few of the songs appeared as different versions on previous Westerberg solo albums, but the versions here hit harder, louder and looser than anything Paul has attempted since his mid-80s hot streak.

The album is lean and sexy with a one-take late-night vibe (described as "Donny & Marie with switchblades" in the liner notes) anchoring new rippers like "Wear Me Out Loud," " Dance To The Fight" and "Done Done Done." The rustic cow-punk sound of the Los Angeles band X seems to be an influence here with the male and female voices melding to create one tough vocal. "King Of America" would have been a huge hit in 1993, with Westerberg describing "I've cleaned your floors, scrubbed your toilets," and now it's his turn to be the "King of America." A booming, anthemic production makes it really pop. In typical Paul Westerberg fashion he buries "King Of America" as the 12th track on Wild Stab.

Maybe The I Don't Cares really don't care. It's a great album nonetheless and a sweet return to form from one of America's most overlooked songwriters.

For more info on The I Don't Cares: http://www.paulwesterberg.com

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