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Wild Stab

Even when he was a young punk with the

Re­place­ments, there was an old soul at the heart of Paul Wester­berg’s mu­sic. Open­ing his first al­bum as the I Don’t Cares with fel­low alt-rock lifer Ju­lianna Hat­field, Wester­berg sings, “I’m back if you’ll have me,” be­fore adding the caveat, “and you’ll have me just how I am.” Even fol­low­ing the high-pro­file re­union of the Mats at an age when most of his peers are firmly in dad-rock mode, Wester­berg hasn’t aban­doned that old self-loathing/ af­firm­ing di­chotomy. Though billed as a duo, his voice dom­i­nates, both fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally, so it’s hard to say who con­trib­utes what on this 16-track de­but. Both Wester­berg and Hat­field have re­mained ac­tive, sel­f­re­leas­ing re­li­ably con­sis­tent ma­te­rial at a steady clip, but this feels like the most fo­cused work ei­ther has done in years. Loose pro­duc­tion dom­i­nates, sug­gest­ing the songs were tossed off in a take or two, leav­ing sev­eral tracks feel­ing un­der­cooked, but there’s a so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the song­writ­ing that re­veals the years of col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence on dis­play here. At its core, the record is about re­la­tion­ships — hardly ground­break­ing ma­te­rial. And yet Wester­berg and Hat­field are able to weave a sort of grounded re­al­ism to their mu­sic, per­haps the one sig­nif­i­cant nod to their in­creas­ing ages. The sweet “Kiss­ing Break” finds the two at their most ide­al­is­tic, while “Sorry for To­mor­row Night” of­fers a glimpse at the last ves­tiges of Wester­berg’s famed self-de­struc­tive streak. The I Don’t Cares won’t re­turn ei­ther artist to pre­vi­ous com­mer­cial peaks, nor does it at­tempt to; both have been around the mu­sic in­dus­try block too many times to har­bour such il­lu­sions of grandeur. (Dry Wood) IAN GORMELY

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