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Paul Westerberg & Various Artists

Although Paul Westerberg has always been fond of breaking out Replacements chestnuts live, he seems to be softening the anti-'Mats stance he often takes on studio-based projects. Witness the two better-than-they-had-any-right-to-be songs recorded for this year's Replacements best-of collection and the eight tunes he contributed to the soundtrack of the animated film Open Season. Sonically, the latter compositions are shockingly close to songs found on 'Mats discs such as Pleased to Meet Me and Don't Tell a Soul — i.e., ragtag pop gems stripped of grit by glossy production yet still recognizably Westerbergian because of his craggy voice. But instead of placing his characters in smoky bars filled with lonely regulars and love-torn sad sacks, Westerberg now sings about meeting his beloved in a meadow, "where the cottonwood is rustling in the trees," or focuses on defending the unalienable "Right to Arm Bears." This whimsy suits him well, however — perhaps because it's still laced with the faint hints of self-deprecation and loneliness for which he's known (especially on the piano ballad "I Belong," where his trembling delivery has never sounded more vulnerable), or perhaps because Season is the catchiest collection Westerberg has released in years. Unfortunately, the Talking Heads' ubiquitous "Wild Wild Life" ruins the album's flow considerably, though zippy synthheads Deathray contribute the fantastic "I Wanna Lose Control (Uh Oh)."


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