25 Years Ago: Paul Westerberg Finally Makes a Solo Album

The Replacements appeared on the cover of the February 1989 issue of Musician magazine. “The Last, Best Band of the ’80s,” read the cover line. But the article was nearly an obituary. A year and a half later, the Minneapolis band called it quits.

Paul Westerberg’s songs and the band’s taste for mischief had won the hearts of fans and critics. An R.E.M.-like breakthrough proved elusive, however. The closest the Replacements came to a hit was “I’ll Be You,” from the 1989 album Don’t Tell a Soul, which sold less than 320,000 copies.

Everyone expected Westerberg, the band’s singer and primary songwriter, to embark on a solo career once the Replacements disbanded. Westerberg, in fact, wanted to release the material that would appear on the Replacements’ final studio album, All Shook Down, under his name. But management convinced him to keep using the Replacements brand, such as it was.

Finally on his own, Westerberg released his first solo album, 14 Songs, on June 15, 1993. In an odd circumstance, Westerberg was actually the fourth former Replacement to release a record in the span of 14 months.

It’s not unusual for solo albums to follow a band’s breakup, of course. But the Replacements were not like Fleetwood Mac or their in-town rivals Hüsker Dü, bands that featured more than one singer-songwriter. Westerberg was the Replacements’ undisputed leader. When the band dissolved, the surrounding talent bobbed to the surface.

Chris Mars, the Replacements’ original drummer, scarcely played on All Shook Down and was fired before the subsequent tour. Working with a head start, he released Horseshoes and Hand Grenades in 1992. The record was the unlikeliest of the four Replacements solo albums. In addition to writing and singing the hook-oriented songs, Mars played almost all the instruments, as if to spite Westerberg, who had publicly questioned Mars’s musicianship before pushing him out of the band.

Listen to Paul Westerberg’s ‘Knockin’ on Mine’

In interviews, Mars complained the Replacements became a dictatorship after Pleased to Meet Me. The songs on Horseshoes and Hand Grandes drip with his disillusionment. “Nobody likes an egomaniac,” he sang in the chorus of “Egomaniac,” an obvious swipe at Westerberg. The single, “Monkey Sees,” was interpreted as a dig at Replacements bass player Tommy Stinson, the Keith to Westerberg’s Mick.

Stinson was just 13 years old when the Replacements formed. Adrift when it was over, he considered getting a GED, according to Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, Bob Mehr’s excellent 2016 biography. Instead, Stinson formed a new band, Bash & Pop, and released Friday Night Is Killing Me in January 1993.

An exuberant, straight-ahead rock record, Friday Night satisfied fans who may have felt Westerberg tinkled on the piano too much in the Replacements’ later years. Stinson had been sitting on some of the material for a while. The Replacements recorded a version of “First Steps,” Friday Night’s closing number, while making Don’t Tell a Soul.

The replacement Replacement, Slim Dunlap joined the band before the Pleased to Meet Me tour, taking the place of doomed guitarist Bob Stinson (Tommy’s older brother). Before catching on with the ’Mats, Dunlap was known around Minneapolis as the guitar player who could fit in any band.

Accordingly, The Old New Me, the record Dunlap released in early 1993, is a warm and limber collections of ballads, boogies and rockers. Fans of The Old New Me include Bruce Springsteen, who in a 2014 interview praised it and a 1996 follow-up, Times Like These, as “just beautiful rock ’n’ roll records.”

While he was the last Replacement to release a solo album, Westerberg had not disappeared between the band’s final show and the release of 14 Songs. In fact, he reached his biggest audience when the soundtrack to the 1992 movie Singles sold more than 2 million copies.

Westerberg contributed two numbers, “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody.” While catchy, the songs sounded antique next to the grunge of Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and other acts on the soundtrack.

With 14 Songs, Westerberg continued to announce his maturity. The album title nodded to J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories; one of the songs name-checked Carson McCullers. Literary pretensions aside, the album was not easy listening. Robert Christgau hailed 14 Songs as a “raucous” return to form. But the first single, “World Class Fad,” failed to connect, and Westerberg cut short the subsequent tour after throwing out his back.

Watch Paul Westerberg’s ‘World Class Fad’ Video

The former Replacements continue to record, perform and snipe at each other (Mars titled his second album 75% Less Fat) in the years following the post-breakup feast of sound. The group dynamic changed somewhat after Dunlap suffered a major stroke in 2012.

To raise money for Dunlap and his family, his friends and followers recorded his songs, which were released as singles before being bundled into a double album. Westerberg and Stinson took part in the “Songs for Slim” benefit, recording two of Dunlap’s songs for an EP they released the Replacements. Working separately, Mars also recorded two Dunlap songs and painted the artwork for the various “Songs for Slim” releases.

Much like an MTV Unplugged appearance allowed the original members Kiss to contemplate a reunion tour, “Songs for Slim” made it more likely that some version of the Replacements would take the stage again.

In 2013, Westerberg and Stinson put together a band and performed as the Replacements for shows in Toronto, Chicago and Denver, headlining Riot Fest. Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day sat in with the group during shows the following year.

A 2015 run of dates was titled “The Replacements: Back by Unpopular Demand.” Then, just as they had 24 years earlier, Stinson and Westerberg went separate ways.

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