One Day at a Time

Stephanie Zacharek reviews Paul Westerberg's album "Eventually".

By Stephanie Zacharek

Published April 29, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

There's always something a little scary about an artist's opening himself
up to his audience. Even though we demand complete honesty from the
performers we care about most, there's always the fear that one might
reveal more than we want to know, some neediness that might make us want
to reject him -- the way Charlie Chaplin, as critic Robert Warshow once
pointed out, made "Love me" his insistent message.

Paul Westerberg runs that risk on the best material on "Eventually," but in the end he keeps enough of himself to himself to maintain our respect. "Eventually," Westerberg's second solo album since the demise of the Replacements, doesn't hang together as well as 1993's "14 Songs," and oddly enough, among a selection of largely folk-pop guitar melodies laced with piano, the throwaways are the rockers. Westerberg's current material doesn't have the raggedy-ass majesty of his best work with the Replacements, but it often has more
depth, more resonance. On "Eventually," Westerberg opens up to us without
resorting to the pathetic demand of "Love me." He's more like Buster
Keaton than Chaplin: he wears all his sadness on the inside, though he
isn't afraid to let us know it's there.

When you look at "Eventually" as a whole, the throwaway songs seem like
nothing more than Westerberg's overwound efforts to draw attention away from himself. They're the cottony padding around the record's flesh and bone, the stuff that shields its heart from the derision of everybody who's convinced that Westerberg's gone soft and lost it. But even when Westerberg recycles his favorite old themes (the idea of kids meeting in a secret place somewhere in the neighborhood, either connecting forever or just narrowly missing the boat), it's clear he hasn't yet drained them.

"Checkin' on her face/Checks his sleeve for his ace/And both, just in
case, wear clean underwear," he sings on "Love Untold," doing his best to
make us laugh before he takes the sky away: "They were gonna meet on a
crummy little street/It never came to be, I'm told/Does anyone recall the
saddest love of all, the one that lets you fall, nothin' to hold?" His
voice cracks, like a branch giving way -- and any sentimentality that may
have fluttered like tentative birds around those words falls away with

More than anything else, Westerberg knows how to size up loneliness, how to map its shape and texture without even naming it. "These are the days
no one sees/They run together for company," he explains on "These Are the
Days," suggesting a private understanding of his own isolation that almost seems to comfort him. But the most wrenching song on "Eventually" -- and the one that really shouldn't work -- is "MamaDaddyDid," a song about deciding not to have children that refuses to bow to self-pity or victimhood. When Westerberg sings, "Decided not to have any regrets, oh, that's as good as it gets/Decided not to raise some mixed-up
kid just like my Ma-ma-mom and Daddy did," he's decisive and regretful at
the same time. He turns the last line into a singsong, as if he thinks he
can somehow cajole himself out of admitting that he'd ever been hurt by

If Westerberg feels like the kid who's been thrown away, it's probably
not just his parents who've done all the damage: I can't even imagine what it feels like to be rejected by a sizable chunk of your old audience, as Westerberg was, simply because you've kicked the bottle. If they ever get to hear it, all those ex-fans are going to absolutely hate "Good Day," the lovely piano ballad on "Eventually" that was most likely written for former Replacements member Bob Stinson, who died last year after wrestling with longtime alcohol problems. The song's most radiant moment comes just before the song trails off, when we hear in a woman's voice, barely an echo, the words, "These are the days."

It's hard to be sure which days those are -- the ones no one sees, or the good ones, but of course, the answer is probably both. "A good day is any day that you're
alive," Westerberg sings on "Good Day" without a shred of irony or preciousness. It's less an optimistic affirmation than a grave admission, a hint that he hasn't forgotten what it's like to stumble through a day when merely holding yourself together is a triumph. As sweet as the song is, it also reveals a certain toughness, the same toughness that somehow holds this record together through all its shaky, uncertain patches. "Eventually" suggests that Westerberg knows what it's like to build your
own lush life, brick by bloody brick.

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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