Some records hit me hard, then lose their impact after repeated listenings. Then there are other records that take awhile to kick in, but when they do, it's like being socked in the head.
I wasn't too sure about The Replacements' third album, Let it Be, at first, but suddenly I realized that it was becoming an obsession with me. There is as much diversity, humor and just plain rock 'n' roll fun on Let it Be than on any record I've heard since The Clash's London Calling.
The Replacements' secret is lead singer and guitarist Paul Westerberg's sense of melody. Every song on this record -- from hardcore thrash to piano ballad -- is intensely hummable.
In fact, the lead-off track, "I Will Dare," should have been a hit single, and probably would have been considered a pop classic, except for "Rock" radio's ignorant refusal to play any new material that doesn't have a video attached. All that means is that the vast majority of people will never get to hear a song that they would probably enjoy. The Replacements address this issue with "Seen Your Video:"
Seen your video
Your phony rock 'n' roll
We don't wanna know
We don't wanna know!
It's this refusal to play the game that fuels The Replacements, but will at the same time keep them from being wildly popular. Consider "Androgynous," featuring just Paul, at his piano, singing about a love affair between Dick and Jane. Completely normal, except that Dick is wearing a skirt, and Jane is sporting a chain. Then consider a totally straight cover of the classic Kiss song "Black Diamond." Now consider these two songs back-to-back. It doesn't make any sense, but it works. Way eclectic.
Let it Be's second side opens with the beautiful 12-string guitar intro to the anthemic "Unsatisfied," a companion to the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." While not as instantly compelling as that classic, Paul's message is strong and clear. And while Mick mentions specific incidents that frustrated him, Paul Westerberg is pissed at everything. This comes out so emphatically in his singing that it's as equally stirring to sing along with the real emotion in Paul's voice when he goes "I'm so, I'm so, I'm so unsatisifed!" as it was/is to shout out "I can't get no!"
And Paul Westerberg's singing is the intangible that puts this album across. Despite being loaded with killer melodies, Paul's rough rough vocals ensure that the songs never get wimpy. Again, much like The Clash or the Rolling Stones. So while he's never be able to sing like those demigods in U.S.A For Africa, he comes across as a more powerful and expressive vocalist than any of them (Bob, Bruce, Stevie and Ray excepted, of course).
Everything comes together -- the melody, the noise, the lyrics, the singing -- on the totally amazing "Answering Machine," an electric folk love ballad for the '80s. It's anchored by just Paul's electric guitar, which lazily floats above the song, echoing his words:
Tried to breathe some life into a letter
Losing hope, never be together
My courage is at its peak, do you know what I mean?
How do you say "I'm OK" to an answering machine?
He can tell her anything he wants to, of course, but leaving it on tape is far too impersonal for what he wants to say: "I'm OK," "I'm lonely," "I miss you." Suddenly he's haunted by the phone company's own recorded message: "If you need help, please hang up and try again." Confronted by the futility of his situation, Westerberg comes up with the only message possible: "I hate your answering machine."
And as Paul's message becomes buried under a hailstorm of percussion, that amazing guitar and the phone lady repeating "If you need help, if you need help, if you need help," I'm tempted to see the song as not just about a specific incident, but as a huge metaphor for all screwed-up communication everywhere. I'm probably wrong, of course, but the song is that incredible.
Overall, Let it Be shows off a band capable of playing in many different styles, albeit sloppily at times. More important, it highlights Westerberg's very real songwriting talents. With his eye for wit and detail, and his ear for a hook, Paul Westerberg could become one of our major songwriters in a very short period of time. But even though The Replacements have now signed with Sire Records and will now have Warner Bros. records' promotions staff behind them, I doubt that they will ever be big, even if they break down and make a video. There are just too many contradictions inherent in this band.
Ironically, it's the contradictions that make them great. Dare. Check out Let it Be.
I thought that this was lost forever. The day that it came out in the Collegian was so incredibly chaotic that I totally forgot to even get a copy for myself. Nearly 20 years later, my homegirl Kassia found one that I'd sent her. I made sure that she got a copy wherever she was living at the time, but neglected to keep one for myself. Such was my life at those times.
Did I say chaotic? Among the things that happened that day was a major decision about the future of my beloved radio station, KFSR; the Replacements playing in Fresno for the first time (at the Star Palace!); at another club -- The Wild Blue!-- a band that eventually became The Miss Alans played their first gig ever; a girl I had a desperate crush on ended up (allegedly) doing narsty things w/ Tommy Stinson, ending the crush. Oh, and I got to meet and interview Paul Westerberg, live and on the air. He was totally and utterly cool, answering all of my wanking fanboy questions -- even embarassedly telling me what the last couplet was in the second verse of "Answering Machine." It made my entire day when somebody told me later that he said that the interview was "cool."
If you ask me, I'll tell you that Let it Be is my all-time favorite album by anyone. And "Answering Machine" my favorite song.
Now, if only someone still has a copy of the Westerberg interview that I stupidly taped over (with a Camper Van Beethoven interview that I just plain lost), that would be the total shit. John Rhyne, where are you?
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This document HTMLized 25 July 2003
I was listening to Fountains of Wayne -- Welcome Interstate Managers