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Westerberg And Hatfield Aim For The Heart With 'Wild Stab'


This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the debut album by a new act consisting of two familiar voices, Paul Westerberg of The Replacements and the singer-songwriter Juliana Hatfield. They call themselves The I Don't Cares. Ken says their new album, "Wild Stab," is both unruly and disciplined.


THE I DON'T CARES: (Singing) When the loneliest eyes and the emptiest stones finally decided to meet. With a head in a lap, and a tongue tied in knots, the loneliest eyes try and speak.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The songs on "Wild Stab" reach out and grab you. They're built around the kind of rootsy rock 'n roll that Paul Westerberg has been making for a long time now, music he originally made, in part, to connect with an earlier generation of rockers like The Rolling Stones, the Faces and The Kinks. Juliana Hatfield sounds very good singing alongside him. Her own past, as a member of groups such as Blake Babies, The Lemonheads and The Juliana Hatfield Three, has positioned her as both a leader and collaborator. Together they fall into an easy rhythm with each other.


THE I DON'T CARES: (Singing) It's just a phase she's going through. It's nothing old. It's something new. It's not your fault; she ain't blaming you. It's just a phase. It's just 16, or 31, a little bit mean, little bit fun. Whatever you do, don't ask her her age. It's just a phase.

TUCKER: The name Westerberg and Hatfield have chosen, The I Don't Cares, is a definite signal for the way they want you to come to this music. The duo is trying to keep expectations low to create the experience of musicians tossing off sounds, playing with guitar riffs and chorus hooks. It's supposed to hit your ears like garage rock, like basement tapes dusted off and tidied up but not too much.


THE I DON'T CARES: (Singing) Honey, you wear me out - laughin' (unintelligible) born in an airport. Honey, you wear me out. Maybe I'm wasted (unintelligible). Wear me out loud. Wear me out loud.

TUCKER: As Westerberg and Hatfield tell it, Westerberg had a bunch of songs and wanted a fresh pair of ears to listen to them, letting Hatfield suggest what songs might work together as an album. He's described her as the album's de facto executive producer and that they called each other Sandpaper and Daffodil for the contrast of their voices. It's a contrast that yields moments of very pretty, romantic pop.


THE I DON'T CARES: (Singing) Give our lips something to do. Give our mouths some words to say. Fill our hands. There's work to do just in case they want a stray. We're all business, you and I, professional as we can be. Hurry up, it's nearly 5. Well, all right, it's only 3. Hey, let's take a kissing break. Listen to our body clock. We've been at this thing all day. Baby, what say we take a kissing break?

TUCKER: Most of the songs on "Wild Stab" run between 2 to 3 minutes, with one big exception, "Hands Together," a 6-minutes-plus mini-epic about love and loneliness that features the album's most carefully arranged word play and structure.


THE I DON'T CARES: (Singing) I attended Ty Cobb's funeral and managed to find a seat. Then I went out dancing with Miss Scarborough. I tried my best to not step on her feet.

TUCKER: While "Hands Together" is this album's most conventionally ambitious song, I can't say that it's anywhere near my favorite. I much prefer the looser, shambling songs that bash you over the head with a happy slap.


THE I DON'T CARES: (Singing) Took a long time, about 13 seconds, until I knew you were mine. Took a long time, about 13 seconds, until I knew that you'd be mind. And I need the guys to know it. I'm seeing into time. I need the guys to know it. And I needed you to give me some time.

TUCKER: The I Don't Cares come along at a time when Westerberg has finished up a reunion tour with his career-making band, The Replacements. And this new album feels, in part, like a winding down, a tension release from the burden of having to make good on the demands of longtime fan loyalty. It sounds to me as though Westerberg and Hatfield sought the refuge of The I Don't Cares to relax while also being productive. The result is music that's never a stab in the back but a stab to the heart. And the hurt feels awfully good.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the new album "Wild Stab" by The I Don't Cares. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold who, along with Eric Harris, went on a rampage at Columbine High in 1999, killing 13 people. Twenty-four people were injured, then Klebold and Harris killed themselves. Sue Klebold has written a new memoir in which she says she tries to offer the truth, to the degree her memory will allow, and honor the memories of the people her son killed. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.