Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Certain Songs #1460: Paul Westerberg – “World Class Fad” | Medialoper

Album: 14 Songs
Year: 1993

While at the time, I thought that “Knockin’ on Mine” was the best of the 14 Songs, in retrospect, I think I was wrong.

Whether or not it was aimed at Kurt Cobain — the title of whose breakthrough album invoked both The Replacements and The Sex Pistols — there was no mistaking that Paul wanted to remind people of his ability to weld noisy guitars, shredded vocals, clever phrasing and an insanely catchy tune into a rock ‘n’ roll song that felt fresh and spontaneous.

And really, it’s the sound of “World Class Fad” that I love more than anything: somehow both shiny and muddy, thick with buzzsaw guitars but still light on its feet, with words that were clever and cutting, even if they weren’t about anybody in particular.

You wax poetic about things pathetic
As long as you look so cute
Believe these hills are starting to roll
Believe these stars are starting to shoot

You wax poetic about things pathetic” is a sick burn in and of itself — and is also kinda what Paul’s doing with that line — but to follow it up with “as long as you look so cute” turns that couplet into a full-out dunk on whomever the song is about.

Which reminds me: the first time I encountered Nirvana, I heard Bob Mould in the guitars and Paul Westerberg in the vocals — why do you think I loved them? — so it’s not surprising that both Bob & Paul saw an opportunity get back to their original sounds in the wake of the world suddenly digging newer variations on those sounds.

If you want it that bad
Be a world class fad
Remember leave a trail of crumbs
If you want it that bad
You’re a world class fad
Remember where you started from
Don’t be sad
You’re a world class fad

But then again, with that chorus, Paul could easily be talking about himself, reminding himself of the road he was too self-destructive to stay on a few years previously and sounding almost relieved that it was somebody else — anybody else — who became the world class fad.

But, of course, the genius of “World Class Fad” is that you don’t have to care what Paul’s singing about to shout along and you really don’t have to care what he’s singing about to enjoy all of the guitars he’s deployed: crunchy rhythms, torrential riffings and searing leads throughout. And you really really don’t have to care what he’s singing about to enjoy his voice — somehow his secret weapon though it’s often how he sells his songs — and the brilliant mixture of sarcasm and sincerity he brings with every single note. There’s a practically a whole seminar to be taught about the way he sings “cute.”

In retrospect, “World Class Fad” was probably even a bigger shot than “Dyslexic Heart” or “I’ll Be You,” which were both slightly out of step with the times, and while it did (relatively) well — making #4 on the Alt Rock charts — it really didn’t cross him over, and he never really released another single that rocked as hard.

“World Class Fad”

“World Class Fad” official video (muddy sound)

“World Class Fad” on Later With Jools Holland, 1993

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