January 10, 2010


Young Bastards: The Replacements were a lot better than they wanted you to think they were. (Stephen Metcalf, Dec. 17, 2009, Slate)
This talent for mindless (or, if you think about it, really quite mindful) audience baiting didn't come from nowhere. The Replacements were four working-class kids from South Minneapolis. Being Catholic, of Scandinavian descent, and snowbound 10 months of the year produces a streak of modesty lying just this side of suicide. The 'Mats were always at pains to make their music sound tossed together, a dog's breakfast, nothing anyone without guitars, some chops, a case of Leinies, Chuck Taylors, maybe a pair of clown pants, and a complexion the color of raw cookie dough, couldn't re-create in their own (parents') garage. What total rubbish. Track by track, Let It Be is a perfectly crafted collection of perfectly crafted songs. "I Will Dare," "Unsatisfied," "Favorite Things," and "Answering Machine" are actually classics—–music the caliber of the Dolls and the Stooges but also the Beatles and the Stones. The idea that the title Let It Be is just a doofus lark is itself a doofus lark. For all the punk attitudinizing, Westerberg is one of nature's tunesmiths and a wildly inventive rhythm guitarist. He sets his instrument to an Open A tuning, then flat picks, often playing arpeggios with highly elaborated hammers and pulls, reaching for peculiar off-notes. This is punk rock liberated from the tyranny of the bar chord. It was so good nobody noticed. But that was the point.

Westerberg was a shy stoner who worshiped Johnny Thunders but also privately Joni Mitchell's Blue. He wrapped his sensitive side in layers of defensive posturing, one of several "lay low" strategies mastered, presumably, as a vassal in the jockocracy of Minneapolis Central High, where he was a year behind Prince. "I don't think a well-adjusted class president could have made it to play lead guitar for us," Westerberg has said. "There was not a high school diploma on that stage." Westerberg was the melody maker, but the Replacements were a band: That is, the ensemble sound of incendiary mutual antagonisms barely resolving themselves into a whole. Bob Stinson, the lead guitarist (listen to the towering solo at the end of "Sixteen Blue"), and Tommy Stinson, his younger brother and the bassist, wanted to rock relentlessly hard and fast, to compete with their Minnesota brethren, the speed/noise merchants Husker Du. They hated Paul's ballads, but that hatred only makes the balladry reverberate in its strangely cavernous way.

"It's the college rock album of all time," someone in Shouting says of Let It Be, and therein lies the rub. What do you do if, after recording a masterpiece, you're still headlining a no-I.D. show at the Regina High School auditorium? The album was put out by TwinTone, an independent label that existed for little more than the glory of its one band. Let It Be has sold 250,000 copies, a succèss fou, if you look at one way, but it didn't perform well enough at the time to lift the band out of touring in a van and playing for little more than gas money. Bob still worked a day job as a pizza chef. Tommy, meanwhile, looked like he'd ridden his banana bike to the show. He had been 12 years old—12—when the band started. He dropped out of 10th grade to tour for Let It Be. A friend of mine once said, unforgettably, that the overwhelming affect of the Replacements is homesickness. "Everybody in the band has cried in the van on the way to the show," Westerberg has said. "And Tommy did it the best once, when he was 15 or 16. He was looking out the window as we were passing some farm area, and he's going, 'That's real, that's life—a [****]ing house, a home where you can stay, where you live, where you wake up, where you work.' "
Except, of course, that Pleased to Meet Me is their masterpiece.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 10, 2010 6:19 AM
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