CD Review of 49:00... Of Your Time/Life by Paul Westerberg
Recommended if you like
Tom Petty, Negativland, cheap shit
Label
Self-Published
Paul Westerberg:
49:00... Of Your Time/Life

Reviewed by James B. Eldred

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R
adiohead’s crazy pay-what-you-want distribution system for In Rainbows wasn’t that big of a surprise, since their reputation as rock’s vanguards has been growing ever since the release of OK Computer a decade or so ago. And when Nine Inch Nails did a similar thing with Ghosts I-IV (and then decided to bypass the whole “buying” thing all together with The Slip) it was even less of a surprise, since NIN frontman Trent Reznor has never made any attempt to hide his complete hatred for labels.

But Paul Westerberg? Did anyone expect the former Replacement turned folk-rocker to outdo them both with the oddest album release to date? 49:00…Of Your Time/Life is an online album that you can only buy at a few music stores. The entire album can be bought for the cheaper-than-cheap price of 49 cents. Somehow, he’s managed to top Radiohead in weirdness.

But how’s the album? Well, it’s weird too. The cover art (which is available at Westerberg’s website) carries beneath it the rather bizarre disclaimer “THIS PRODUCT IS NOT FAULTY – ALL SOUNDS ARE INTENTIONAL AND VALID AS A WORK OF ART.” Enigmatic, but absolutely necessary, since this is one wacky little record.

Things start out normally enough, with two typically folk/rock tunes that would fit on any of Westerberg’s later solo albums, but as things progress it becomes apparent that Westerberg has something up his sleeve with 49:00…. Soon tracks start overlapping and eventually you start hearing two (or more) songs at the same time. Other times you might just get a single line or two from a song before it is cut off and replaced with something completely different, teasing you with what might have been. Sometimes songs swing back and forth between the left and right speakers, creating an incredibly disorientating effect, which is probably why the record also comes with a warning that it should not be played while operating heavy machinery (imagine the headlines: “Crane operator kills six, experimental folk-rock album blamed”). And you can’t skip to any specific track on 49:00, it’s just one track (that is oddly less than the title length).

A lack of tracks makes commenting on certain parts a little hard (there are no song titles either). So the best way to go is by timecode: a very good Bob Dylan/Tom Petty-esque tune kicks in around the 11-minute mark, and there’s a great guitar solo about 17 minutes in that cuts out suddenly to a quick snippet of a love song which is immediately followed by a funny acoustic number punctuated by the refrain of “everyone’s stupid.”

On the whole, the album is solid, but occasionally a little too out there for its own good. It’s like Bob Dylan decided to team up with avant-garde sound collage artists. Melodies are buried in noise, catchy choruses vanish before they even begin, and countless songs are teased only as background noise for other pieces of work. It’s an odd amalgamation of styles that matches and even compliments the equally bizarre distribution system behind it. Westerberg should be applauded for taking a very brave chance with such a weird project, but it’s not always that easy to listen to. The constant shifting between songs can get annoying later on, and some parts are flat-out disorienting. Still, it’s easily worth 49 cents, and at least one listen, just to see how nuts Paul Westerberg can be.

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