Paul Westerberg, who you might know better as the former lead vocalist for the snotty punk rock band out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Replacements, released his debut record as a solo artist (‘All Shook Down’ was technically a Replacements record), ’14 Songs’, in 1993. Westerberg wasn’t lying, indeed this record kicks out 14 songs. The significance that this record holds is in the versatility of the 14 songs within. Though he is still capable of putting out the snobby punk rock attitude that the Replacements’ early material is certainly marked by, he also has shown an emotional maturity with this record that is the icing on the cake as far as this being his ultimate departure from the world of the Replacements.
The opening track on this record is “Knockin’ on Mine”, which is evidence that Westerberg still holds much of the volatility that he continually expressed with the Replacements. However, the difference this time around is that he expresses these feelings within a much more compact setting. This song rocks, but it doesn’t have the unrestrained madness to it that often defines punk rock. Furthermore, this arrangement is once again featured on “World Class Fad”, which also has Westerberg spitting out some of his trademark venomous lyrics, painting a reality that many of the bourgeois are just too blind and comfortable to accept in their minds. However, the undisputed highlight on the record is “Dice Behind Your Shades”. Not only showcasing the versatility of the record, it also resonates emotionally with some of Westerberg’s best songwriting of his entire career. In all of this, he is able to showcase a sense of himself that, no matter how much he attempts to break away from the Replacements, just won’t go away. After all, who would want to break away from this mindset? The world in which the Replacements existed, along with many of their contemporaries, was a peaking essence of cool. A couple of other highlights on the record are “Silver Naked Ladies” and “A Few Minutes of Silence”, both of which wouldn’t sound out of place on what is typically accepted as ‘classic rock radio’. In this fact, you can’t overlook the importance of Ian McLagan from Faces on the record’s material.
This effort has many shining moments and, overall, isn’t too bad at all. Much of the material moves with a freshness that every solo artist hopes of capturing when they strike out on their own. 14 songs, though, turns out to be quite a bit for this record and, not coincidentally, the record tends to suffer for it. It isn’t fair to be too cruel to the filler on this record, though, because much of it isn’t, by any means, bad. The only thing is that it’s quite clear what tracks on this record are supposed to be the obvious points of reference. The ultimate triumph of this record is that it proves that Westerberg is much more than just that snotty, unsettled singer in a punk rock band. If when digging into this record, the listener is willing to give Westerberg the benefit of the doubt on the filler material, then this record is certainly nothing short of a solid example of the early-’90s alternative/college rock scene. What more could you possibly want from the man?