The Replacements and Paul Westerberg
Reviewed on this page:
Don't Tell A Soul - Tim -
Pleased To Meet Me -
All Shook Down -
Horseshoes And Hand Grenades -
75% Less Fat -
14 Songs - Eventually
Replacements indeed - these guys sound like just about any other 80s college rock band, but they're so faceless they don't compare easily to anyone.
They don't have the punk and art rock sensibilities of, say, the Minutemen or Sonic Youth; they don't have the sweet pop influences of the dB's; they don't have a distinct guitar or vocal sound like REM; and they don't use up-to-date electronic gadgets or try to put across political lyrics like U2, XTC or Midnight Oil.
Basically, they're just loose, loud, and doggedly enthusiastic, at their best a step or two up from a bar band.
They never sold a lot of records during their decade-long run, and their self-destructive drunkenness, pedestrian instrumental skills, and lack of musical or lyrical innovation probably had a lot to do with it.
But they have a huge reputation with rock critics anyway, and I can hear why: they were utterly sincere, and they worked out a sure-fire rock 'n' roll formula that combined Chuck Berry-ish up-tempo numbers with gentle, slightly countrified ballads.
You could even make a case that their variation on power-pop was the basis for much of American alt rock in the early 90s - Buffalo Tom, Material Issue, the Posies, and so on.
I'm not sure anyone is going to get a lot out of tracking down every last record they did, but the better ones (including some of their post-breakup solo efforts) are good clean fun.
In a weird twist of fate, the Replacements originated in Minneapolis, also home to Prince and Hüsker Dü (must be something strange in the water).
They cut a string of records on Twin/Tone before graduating to the majors with Sire, at which point their songwriting became erratic and they started having personnel problems.
Eventually, singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg pretty much took over the band, writing and singing all the material and dominating their sound.
The group finally dissolved in 1991, and a small number of solo albums has resulted; Westerberg's are the most easily available, but Chris Mars' solo records are surprisingly good and very much in the vein of the band's original work.
There's at least one decent Paul Westerberg fan page.
Chris Mars (drums), Bob Stinson (guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass), Paul Westerberg (vocals, guitar, some saxophone).
Bob Stinson left, after 1985. Slim Dunlap (guitar) joined, late 1987 or 1988.
Mars replaced by Steve Foley (drums), 1990, who did not appear on record. Band split, 1991. Bob Stinson died, 1995.
Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (1981)
The Replacements Stink (1982)
An EP. (JA)
I have this one and I just don't think it's very interesting, with lo-fi production values and spotty songwriting.
The band seems almost out of control, sometimes veering into primitive punk rock, and other times digressing with tossed-off blues, tongue-in-cheek jugband music, and random snippets of Beatles songs.
Despite ragged performances, it does have an on-the-spot garage band feel that makes it a heck of a lot more intimate than their major-label records. (JA)
Let It Be (1984)
Their first major-label album, entirely written by Westerberg outside of one group effort ("Dose Of Thunder").
Most of it is a solidly commercial and conventional rock record, much more authentic and tasteful than whatever else was on the radio dial in the mid-80s, but utterly unoriginal.
"Hold My Life" is a solid example of their foot-stomping rock anthem formula, which they reuse repeatedly ("Bastards Of Young"; "Lay It Down Clown," with a neurotic slide guitar part; the power ballad "Left Of The Dial").
They also indulge themselves with noisy near-punk ("Dose Of Thunder"), energetic roots rock ("I'll Buy"), and smirking humor (the country-western sendup "Waitress In The Sky").
But the really striking thing is Westerberg's increasing taste for sentimental balladry ("On The Bus," with reverby rockabilly guitar; the romantic, Jonathan Richman-like "Swinging Party"; the plodding acoustic number "Here Comes A Regular").
An unfocused effort showing little progression, it still has a good quota of quality tunes ("Hold My Life"; "Lay It Down Clown"; "On The Bus"; "Swinging Party").
Produced by Tommy Erdelyi of the Ramones; Alex Chilton guests on "Left Of The Dial." (JA)
Pleased To Meet Me (1987)
With lead guitarist Bob Stinson out of the band, this is a more mature, carefully produced album than the last one. But it's still flabby and inconsistent.
Tommy Stinson and Mars have co-writes on four different tunes, and producer Jim Dickinson brings in side-players on keyboards (East Memphis Slim), horns (Steve Douglas), and backing vocals ("Vito").
There's an unusual amount of stylistic variety this time: "Nightclub Jitters" is a smokey lounge jazz number, "Shooting Dirty Pool" verges on heavy metal, "Can't Hardly Wait" is an overproduced, mid-tempo R & B groove complete with strings and horns, and "Skyway" has some gentle acoustic picking and a sweet vocal that makes it vaguely reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel.
The one joke number is also surprisingly well-crafted (the honking, head-pounding "I Don't Know").
And the high points are all impressively thoughtful rock songs: the early 80s U2-style "The Ledge" sports some of Westerberg's most sophisticated rhythm and lead guitar parts ever, "I.O.U." is catchy and hard-hitting, and "Alex Chilton" is a fine, hook-filled power-pop tune.
Despite this, there are far too many forgettable mid-tempo rockers ("Never Mind"; "Valentine"; "Red Red Wine"), and it's just not catchy enough to keep your attention.
Guests include Chilton and Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns (both on "Can't Hardly Wait"). (JA)
Don't Tell A Soul (1989)
A surprisingly dull, forgettable effort that's even disappointing compared to the last record.
Westerberg often croons in a gentle whisper that just highlights his voice's lack of personality, and the band doesn't do much even when it tries to vary its rock formula with, say, synthesizers (the dreary "Rock
'N' Roll Ghost"). The drums are particularly unimaginative, varying only between a light country-western beat ("Achin' To Be") or a popping 4/4 rock beat.
And a lot of the material is just way too quiet and unfocused (then there's "I Won't," which is noxiously loud and unfocused). There is some good stuff. "We'll Inherit The Earth" is a catchy Midnight Oil-ish anti-anthem, "Anywhere's Better Than Here" is a ballsy, stomping rocker, "Asking Me Lies" is well-produced in addition to catchy, and best of all there's the nostalgic "Talent Show": it's one of the most memorable rock tunes of the late 80s, but apart from some cool dynamics it's just an overplayed gimmick riff, and it gets annoying.
It's not all bad, but don't bother with it unless you see it dirt cheap. (JA)
All Shook Down (1990)
Although the band was falling apart at this point - Mars hardly appears at all - Westerberg managed to deliver a solidly entertaining set of rock songs that exploit his usual strategy of writing around a catchy refrain.
The best stuff all sounds the same but all sounds great: mid-tempo anthems like "Merry Go Round" and "Someone Take The Wheel"; the stomping, semi-acoustic "One Wink At A Time," with a funky horn hook; the relatively complex, Eagles-y soft rock love song "When It Began"; the magnificent Rolling Stones imitations "Happy Town" (with a swirling Hammond organ part) and "My Little Problem" (with blazing guitar parts); and the joyful rockabilly singalong number "Attitude."
Even the secondary stuff is perfectly respectable (country-esque ballads like "Nobody" and "Torture"; rockers like the Clash-ish "Bent Out Of Shape"), with just a couple of dull selections like the steel guitar and violin-fortified sleep-a-thon "Sadly Beautiful"; the mellow, Paul Simon-style piano jazz ballad "The Last"; and the quirky, lethargic title track, complete with a whispery recorder part.
Nothing profound, but probably the place to start with their catalogue. Co-produced by Litt and Westerberg, with a ton of vaguely credited guests like Charley Drayton, John Cale, Johnette Napolitano, and Benmont Tench. (JA)
Horseshoes And Hand Grenades (Mars: 1992)
A self-written, self-produced, two-man-band record (bassist J. D. Foster is Mars' only foil on most tracks; engineer Tom Herbers has a production co-credit).
So every track here sounds like it's been worked over for days, which is mostly a good thing.
Mars' gruff, gasping vocals are an acquired taste, but he's a solid songwriter and a remarkably competent guitarist.
He seems most comfortable with tough, speedy hard rock in the Replacements' style ("Popular Creeps"; "I, Me, We, Us, Them"); when he goes with their usual mid-tempo country-rock it veers between charming ("Get Out Of My Life"; "Don't You See It") and mushy ("Last Drop").
Even the lyrics are solid, with a nasty swipe at Westerberg (the blistering punk rocker "Ego Maniac") and some sarcastic humor ("Popular Creeps"; "Monkey Sees"; the sinuous, apocalyptic "Midnight Carnival").
He gets in some clever percussion and joyous slide guitar work on "Reverse Status," and a 6/8 sea chantey beat on the semi-acoustic alt rocker "Before It All Began"; and everywhere he shows mastery of good-old-fashioned dynamics and riffery ("Outer Limits"; "Monkey Sees"; more geek punk on "Better Days").
It's only rock and roll - some of this stuff is straight off the rack ("Happy Disconnections"; "City Lights On Mars") - but it's heartfelt and entertaining rock and roll, and much more consistent than most of the Replacements' original albums.
Dan Murphy and Dave Pirner make token guest appearances. (JA)
Friday Night Is Killing Me (Tommy Stinson: 1993)
I think this was his only solo album. (JA)
75% Less Fat (Mars: 1993)
Another two-man-band record, with Mars producing alone this time.
It could hardly be more dull: almost every track has up-tempo 4/4 beats, economical three-minute running times, chunky, distorted power chords, and hoarse, super-earnest vocals, all of which makes him seem like a second-rate Wayne Kramer ("All Figured Out").
He often tries and fails to work off of a single, basic guitar lick ("No Bands"), and the lack of instrumental and stylistic variety is acute - you can barely hear the whirling organ on "Skipping School" and the sleepy country-rock ballad "Demolition."
So the only big surprise is the instrumental "Nightcap," with Mars' piano and guitar creating a sleek mid-70s jazz fusion sound while bassist Foster takes a clarinet solo (!).
A lot of the tracks do have an enjoyable punk flavor ("Weasel"; the snappy, satirical "Car Camping"), and a couple of tunes are OK, especially when he recycles the Replacements' sound ("Public Opinion"; the speedy, slightly Stones-style "Stuck In Rewind" and "Bullshit Detector"), or gears down for some mid-70s AOR (the vaguely Frampton-like "Whining Horse," complete with acoustic guitar and massive sustain on the lead guitar).
Amusingly, the lyrics are even more bitter than before, with almost everything sounding like a veiled attack on Westerberg ("No Bands"; "Bullshit Detector"); he's frequently funny, and works in a lot of vivid imagery and wordplay ("Candy Liquor"; the apocalyptic "No More Mud").
But the boy just doesn't get out enough. (JA)
14 Songs (Westerberg: 1993)
Predictable and often sloppy, Westerberg's debut solo album just isn't quite as good as the preceding Replacements records - but it does have some strong points.
There's a really sweet and carefully arranged, albeit overlong ballad ("First Glimmer"), a couple of endearingly earnest acoustic demos ("Even Here We Are"; "Black Eyed Susan"), a possibly unintentional glam rock revival with a sax part by
Westerberg ("Someone I Once Knew"), and a mid-tempo number with a pleasingly mellow refrain ("Dice Behind Your Shades").
And several of the rockers work, especially the grinding, Stones-like "Knockin On Mine," "World Class Fad," and "Silver Naked Ladies."But a lot of the rest is forgettable, from dreary balladry ("Things") to overloud and dull hard rock (the proto-punk rocker "Something Is Me"; "Down Love").
The band is John Pierce (bass) and Brian MacLeod (drums), plus a bunch of bit players including Ian McLagan (piano on two tracks, with
a ferocious boogie woogie part on "Silver Naked Ladies"), Michael Urbano (drums
on one), and Joan Jett (backing vocals on one).
Co-produced by Wallace and Westerberg. (JA)
Tenterhooks (Mars: 1995)
Have this one too; it's weaker than his first two solo records, with less energy and some irritating keyboard parts, and all of his usual shortcomings when it comes to vocals and songwriting. (JA)
Eventually (Westerberg: 1996)
Westerberg's crisp, guitar-based rock craftsmanship is on display here once again; he just barely deviates from the usual 80s Replacements formula.
One song after another sounds like a rewrite, with exactly the same old Chuck Berry beat on the rockers ("You've Had It With You") and country-western ambience
on most of the numerous ballads ("Mamadaddydid").
It is a fine formula, and it's hard to resist the snappy, stripped-down production and quality songwriting.
There's at least one tune with remarkably complex structure and production ("Ain't Got Me"), and
the best stuff is really good ("These Are The Days"; "Angels Walk," with shimmering, Peter Buck-style guitar parts).
But the energy level is low; he even delivers a piano ballad with moody strings
("Good Day"), and by the time his dreamy anthem "Time Flies Tomorrow" comes on you're almost half-asleep.
In the end, Westerberg's class and competence can't make up for his near-total lack of artistic ambition.
Westerberg wrote and sang everything and played almost all the guitars and piano parts.
Co-produced by him, engineer Lou Giordano, and on three tracks Brendan O'Brien;
the band on Giordano's tracks is usually ex-Cracker member Davey Farragher or Westerberg himself (bass) and Michael Urbano (drums), and there are several incidental players including Tommy Stinson (bass and trombone on the good-natured country-punker "Trumpet Clip," where Westerberg and Urbano fill out the ersatz horn section). (JA)
Suicaine Gratification (Westerberg: 1999)
Produced by Don Was, with the band including a bunch studio regulars like Benmont Tench and Steve Ferrone.
I have this one and find it really dull, much like his preceding records but even more lethargic. (JA)
Anywhere's better than here...