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Vinyl Tap: The Replacements – Let It Be

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #54:

Seen your video. Heard your record.

    One more chance to get it all wrong
    One more time to do it all wrong
    One more night to get it half right
    One more warning
    One more warning sound
    We're comin' out
    We're comin' out.

“Fingernails and a cigarette's a lousy dinner,” indeed. The tongue-in-cheek nature of the title and album cover of the Replacements' 1984 classic Let It Bea photo of the bed-head boys, yawning and bedraggled, sitting on a suburban Minneapolis rooftop — at least gives me a better perspective of the group than when I had seen them live at an L.A. club. Or more accurately, when I had seen some of them some of the time, since they performed part of the show flat on their backs drunkenly covering such bubblegum fare as the Ohio Express’ “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy (I Got Love In My Tummy).”

Thanks folks and I hope they passed the audition, anyway. But whether lying down or sitting, the ’Mats were stand-up musicians able to draw on the solid song craft of Paul Westerberg, who with this fourth release found his abilities and talents traversing a critical crossroads as his strengths emerged with greater breadth and depth, resonance and mordant humor. There’s also such pigeonhole-proof rollicking rousers as the feel-good ode to love-interests everywhere, “Favorite Thing”: “You're my favorite thing / Bar nothing!” Things are slowed down for “Androgynous,” yet relationships still get tweaked when you're “Closer than you know, love each other so / Androgynous.” The technology of modern life also comes in for a skewering in “Answering Machine” as the singer poignantly ponders “How do you say I'm lonely to / An answering machine? / The message is very plain / Oh, I hate your answering machine.”

In any case, accept no substitutes. The Replacements' glorious mess o’ Let It Be is a roarin’ little record I want my turntable to play and play again, and “I Will Dare” — as the tuneful attitudinal opener challenges — paves the way for a long player steeped in ever more youthful readiness, in the earnestness of the ‘Mats being newly important (beyond the novel tension-breaking fun of the punk-addled “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out,” or “Gary’s Got A Boner”): “Meet me anyplace or anywhere or anytime / Now, I don't care, meet me tonight / If you will dare, I will dare.”

The level of defiance intensifies with the anthemic scorcher “Unsatisfied,” with Westerberg’s hauntingly straining vocals competing with the wailing guitar of Bob Stinson almost to the point of instigation and stammering frustration. Not tryin’ to cause a big sensation, but…

    Look me in the eye
    Then, tell me that I'm satisfied
    Was you satisfied?
    Look me in the eye
    Then, tell me that I'm satisfied
    Hey, are you satisfied?

    And it goes so slowly on

    Everything I've ever wanted
    Tell me what's wrong…

    …Look me in the eye
    And tell me that I'm satisfied
    Look me in the eye
    Unsatisfied
    I'm so, I'm so unsatisfied
    I'm so dissatisfied
    I'm so, I'm so unsatisfied
    I'm so unsatisfied
    Well, I'm-a
    I'm so, I'm so unsatisfied
    I'm so dissatis,dissattis…
    I'm so…

If “Unsatisfied” ranks as Let It Be’s — and one of the ‘80s — most passionate tracks of inner angst and anxiety, the affecting “Sixteen Blue” is the among the most compassionate reflections upon interrelationships and alienation. Once again, Westerberg summons his dark hoarse voice and cues the ramshackle Replacements to call up a world not too far removed: “Drive yourself right up the wall / No one hears and no one calls / It's a boring state / It's a useless wait, I know…” More prosaic than inspirational, sympathetic yet hopeful, Westerberg’s happy-to-be-sad melancholy here is a perfect complement to the raucousness of much of Let It Be:

    Your age is the hardest age
    Everything drags and drags
    You're looking funny
    You ain't laughing, are you?
    Sixteen blue
    Sixteen blue

The song is an emotional holding pattern as Westerberg lends an ear. Sometimes that’s the best thing you can do. The worst? Leave a personal message on an answering machine, which Westerberg would never do. Or sing “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy.” Which he just might do. Then look him in the eye and tell him he’s not satisfied.

Also featured in Glen Boyd’s New Album Releases for this week, Let It Be, along with the earlier Twin Tone Replacement albums – Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash; Stinks; and Hootenanny — are getting re-released as Rhino's expanded reissues.

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://www.theretherekid.com Kevin Eagan

    They are such a good band, and this is the one album everyone should have (if you had to pick one).

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/gordon_hauptfleisch Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks, Kevin. With close runner-ups “Tim” and “Pleased…” (and let’s put Westerberg’s “14 Songs” in there too) I would hope no one would make me pick only one.