Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Within Your Reach

What if the Beatles released proto-metal “I Want You” or proto-punk “Come Together” in 1963, six years before those tracks ever came out and a million and six years ahead of their time?

What if R.E.M. offered uber-ballad “Everybody Hurts” or the stunningly gorgeous “Nightswimming” in 1984, eight years prior to when they actually came out?

What if The Who did “Love Reign O’er Me” in 1965, right alongside “I Can’t Explain?” What if U2 offered up “Zoo Station” in 1982 as part of October? What if Bob Dylan decided to dial up “Idiot Wind” in 1963 right next to “The Times They Are A Changin’?” What if Bruce Springsteen included “Dancing in the Dark” on his second album?

The notion of each seems nuts, doesn’t it? Because it is. None of those bands/artists were ready for such an evolutionary jump at those points in their careers. They had to grow into themselves, get comfortable in their styles and structures as they introduced themselves to the public and honed their sound. They had to mature before they changed; perfect as the 1963 Beatles were, they still had plenty of room to (to put it in “Cowbell” parlance) explore the studio space in the years to come and add levels and layers to their sound. And there is, naturally, overwhelming evidence that they did just that. Same goes for R.E.M. and The Who and U2 and Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

The early incarnations of those bands/artists just weren’t at a place yet where they needed to do the things they would come to do in the ensuing years. It’s just the natural order of musical artists who are in it for the long haul.

So. With all that in mind. I have a question.

How the hell did this happen in 1983?

The reverb. The production. The aching tenderness in his voice. The hoodlum poetics. Those are all things that came to define The Replacements’ sound and came to define Paul Westerberg as the standard bearer post-punk and the godfather of so much of the alt-sound that followed in the 90s.

Only that wasn’t where they were in 1983. It just wasn’t. “Within Your Reach” sticks out like the sorest of sore thumbs amidst the trashy and loose-limbed (and lipped) excess of Hootenanny. It’s not a diamond in the rough, because Hootenanny is a wondrous album that showed just how for real the Mats were. No. It’s more like a diamond in a bucket of unrefined gold.

Nothing the Mats were doing at the time gave any clue they were capable of something like “Within Your Reach.” It sounds like nothing else on Hootenanny. If you listen to the CD it is immediately preceded by “Mr. Whirly,” which alternates between being an insolent thrash stemwinder and a Beatles send up. And it is succeeded by the worldless country raunchromp of “Buck Hill,” where the whole band yells something that sounds like “Buck Hill!” at the climax only I don’t think they’re shouting “Buck Hill!”

And then considering it's also on the same record as the riotous "Lovelines?" The punk-screech mayhem of "Run It?" The iconic sonic blast of "Color Me Impressed?" No. To quote a certain Minneapolis band that grew up right along side them, it makes no sense at all.

It just doesn’t fit, “Within Your Reach.” It’s a relic from a time that hadn’t happened yet, something that even could have seemed out of place on the much more mainstream and (occasionally) subtle Pleased To Meet Me three years later.

It doesn’t fit. Yet it does. Perfectly. It’s the shot out of left field to end all shots out of left field, and it’s not at all an overstatement to say it’s kind of like if “Come Together” showed up on A Hard Day’s Night, right after “I Should Have Known Better” and right before “If I Fell.” And nonetheless “Within Your Reach” is one of the best songs the band ever did. Just like “Come Together” was for the Beatles. Maybe not the best, but one of them, for sure.

It doesn’t fit. Yet it fits perfectly. How the hell did they pull that off?

Possible answer? They—and only they— were The Replacements.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great POV that I never considered before.

    I was introduced to the Mats by Tim, and that vinyl just blew my scattered little mind. That was epochal.

    I deeply regret never being able to see them with Bob Stinson, but I had the fortune to see them when they were discovering professionalism (although Westerberg did a drunken encore mashup of "Skyway" and "Fuck School" that he needed a chair to perform)

    Damn, I miss the Replacements. So looking forward to the couple of new tracks on the Slim benefit release coming up.