Besterberg: The Best of Paul Westerberg -- Paul Westerberg (Sire/Reprise/Rhino): Ryan Adams' recent show at House of Blues makes Paul Westerberg look like the picture of careful career management. Adams turned four-minute songs into eight-minute songs by filling them with guitar solos, and then chewed out the respectful crowd for not being respectful enough during the quietest, most sluggish moments.
In the Replacements, Westerberg's self-destruction of choice was drinking hard and abandoning the band's songs in favor of winging classic rock covers. His solo live shows have been far less haphazard, though his CDs have the whiff of a guy not sure how badly he wants success, or how much success he wants. His liner notes to Besterberg are so brief that they suggest he dashed them off while waiting for pasta water to boil, and they have a defeated tone. "All That I Had" -- "Don't care for it much," he says. "Dyslexic Heart" -- "Unfinished, it was a bit too cutesy for me." "What a Day (For a Night)" -- "Written for Bonnie Raitt, but at this rate a hit song would embarrass me."
Typical of such albums, it pulls together some obscurities like "Seein' Her," a blissfully happy pop song from the 14 Songs sessions, as well as songs from the Singles, Melrose Place and Friends soundtrack albums. None but "Dyslexic Heart" are among his "best" -- so much for a true "best of," but it's a pleasant surprise how well songs from his post-Replacements albums hold together as a set. 14 Songs, Eventually and Come Feel Me Tremble are all better starting points for this phase of his career, though.
Kick Out the Jams -- MC5 (MVD): It's personally painful to say anything unkind about an MC5-related release, but this DVD of a film by Leni Sinclair and Cary Loren is only of interest to those with a lot of patience for dated optical effects and film techniques. This collection of silent live footage is very loosely synched to songs from the MC5's debut album by the same name (plus a few other live staples), but no gimmickry can hide the fact that Sinclair and Loren were working with a limited amount of footage, most of which is exhausted three or four songs in. The devastating version of "Sister Anne" in last year's Future Now documentary shows what a remarkable live band the MC5 was, which makes the sped-up footage under the title track doubly irritating. It doesn't capture the band's kinetic energy, and it makes the band seem silly the way sped-up footage almost always does. For hardcore fans only, unfortunately.
Keane at the Saenger Theatre June 12: The show? If you liked Hopes and Fears (Interscope), you would have liked the show. There was a distracting video screen, but otherwise, the show was a lot like the CD, but louder.
That aside, much of the fun came from the performance being one of the first in a long time when the younger women in the crowd squealed and screamed when singer Tom Chaplin came their way. In the indie rock era, sex appeal and showmanship have become almost pass, so it was nice to see Chaplin inspire that sort of excitement. You could complain about the feathered bangs he swept out of his eyes or the Donny Osmond-like black shirt and slacks held up by a white belt, but few did. The clear sincerity of his singing and his politeness between songs only seemed to heighten his appeal.
He looked like a child, though he's 26, but it's useful to remember Jim Morrison was through performing at that age, and Mick Jagger was 25 when the Rolling Stones released Beggar's Banquet. It's easy to think of rock stars as being some indeterminate age, old enough to possess some wisdom and be at some level -- even a decadent one -- respectable. Much of the excitement of the great albums of all time is the artistic daring and brashness that accompanies youth, and if there is anything sad about contemporary popular music it's that much of it is made by people who seem prematurely old. Keane isn't as conceptual or inventive as the great bands, but the songs embody grand, passionately felt emotions that will only scale down and become more subtle with the passing of time as doubt and complexity ameliorate their art. It's refreshing to hear something so heartfelt, if only for a while.