Friday, December 25, 2015

Replacements 4: Let It Be

While we’re hardly qualified to make such a diagnosis, Paul Westerberg is probably bipolar, with each aspect of his personality constantly clashing with the other. This dichotomy is perfectly expressed on the Replacements’ first great album. The front cover of Let It Be shows the band relaxing on the roof of the Stinson family household—a sly reference to a certain lunchtime performance by another band who used the title first—and of all the members, Westerberg is the only one not facing the camera. The graffiti on the back cover only underscores their ambivalence towards playing nice.
With few exceptions, the songs are well-crafted and tuneful, beginning with “I Will Dare”, simple in its delivery (and Peter Buck’s phoned-in solo) but complex in the inclusion of a mandolin, of all things. “Favorite Thing” threatens to reel out of control, but always comes together for hook before the choruses. Similarly, “We’re Comin’ Out” comes closest to their earlier thrash experiments, except that it slows down in the middle for a piano-led snap-along reiteration of the theme before speeding up again. “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” continues the hospital theme from the last album, suggested here by a children’s record. The piano comes back to drive “Androgynous”, which would win points solely on the basis of one astute observation (“He might be a father but he sure ain’t a dad”). After the song stumbles to a finish, a cover of “Black Diamond” by Kiss is played straight, but stops before the interminable detuned section.
As good as side one is, side two is nearly perfect. First there’s “Unsatisfied”, an anthem for youth of any decade, shimmering with a 12-string acoustic and inspired bursts of lead guitar. Paul screams “I’m so” over and over, running out of steam before the fade, and in a just world the song never actually ended. “Seen Your Video” is instrumental, and a tight one, before the breakdown and snotty asides about MTV give the band an excuse to burst through again. “Gary’s Got A Boner” is a barely finished rip on the “Cat Scratch Fever” riff, redeemed immeasurably by “Sixteen Blue”. Supposedly written in honor of their bass player, it’s yet another note of sympathy for angst-ridden teens anywhere, with crisp drumming by Chris Mars and another glorious solo over a slow fade. Finally, “Answering Machine” is Paul solo again, railing in favor of old-fashioned communication over a tense guitar and chorus pedals.
Let It Be was even favorably reviewed in Rolling Stone, which likely got the band some more notice. It’s miles ahead of their earlier albums, and as a template for the rest of the decade, remains an excellent place to dive in. When Rhino expanded the album for a reissue, covers ranging from T.Rex’s “20th Century Boy” to “Heartbeat—It’s A Lovebeat” by the DeFranco Family alternated with a couple of alternate takes and the otherwise unreleased “Perfectly Lethal”, which would have fit just fine on the original LP.

The Replacements Let It Be (1984)—4
2008 CD reissue: same as 1984, plus 6 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. Quite possibly my favorite album of the 80s. The cover alone evokes 80s Midwest perfectly. Even inspired me to write a few short stories.