Thursday, June 27, 2013


The recent news of The Replacements upcoming reunion—or at least a version of them, with Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson (half of the original lineup)—delighted me to the gills. As has been well-documented on this blog, this is a band Scott and I have placed on a very high, very rarified pedestal.

It won’t be the full band—Slim Dunlap is sadly in no condition to do much of anything these days, and unfortunately drummer Chris Mars won’t be a part of it, though it’s very clear to see he has moved on to other things and he is experiencing impressive success. But having Paul and Tommy (and two others) play together is nothing to sneeze at. It’d be kind of akin to watching Michael Stipe and Mike Mills perform together again. Or maybe even Bono and The Edge, if U2 (perish the thought) ever decides to go away.

But all this ‘Mats news and the thought of maybe seeing them again (though so far dates are only scheduled for Toronto, Chicago and Denver, the cads) got me once more thinking about and listening to one of my favorite bands at their best. The shattering emotional release of Let It Be. The wrenching anthems and power-chord glory of Tim. The whirligig mayhem ride that was Pleased to Meet Me. The overproduced yet soaring pop glow of Don’t Tell a Soul. God, what a collection they have.

But what of All Shook Down, their final album (from 1990) and by all accounts the Replacements album that never was supposed to be? It was going to be Westerberg’s first solo effort, only while recording he had called the band members in for enough support (mostly Tommy—Chris was by all account the least used, and was officially out of the band by the time their final tour started in late 1990) that it just became a Replacements project, apparently at the record label's insistence. Though the bond was fleeting at best—there is no mention on the album (which Paul icily refers to in the liner notes as “this recorded thing”) of any kind of band assemblage, rather there is a simple listing of everyone (Replacements and non-Replacements alike) who kicked in. There’s a ghostly double-exposed image of Paul on the inner sleeve, but no other band likenesses appear. For a final album of one of the most important bands in rock-n-roll history, it offers as little fanfare as one can imagine.

But the music, man, it just works. There are at least three bona fide gems that belong in the Replacements pantheon—“Nobody,” “Sadly Beautiful” and “When It Began.” And nearly everything else on the record lives up to what they did best. There is rousing pop with “Merry Go Round,” there is Paul’s stilted poetry with “One Wink At a Time,” there are nihilistic burners in “Someone Take the Wheel” and “Bent Out of Shape,” there’s even a Stones-y shuffle in “Torture” and a startling piano-laden closer in “The Last,” a song where Paul bids farewell to both days of debauchery and, very possibly, the band itself. This is one hell of a Replacements record and stands as a remarkably underrated recording, even today. Their hearts may have no longer been in it as a band, but they sure were there with the music.

And then there’s the song "Attitude," which has to be considered one of the most important songs the Replacements ever did. If for no other reason it’s the last time—and the only time on this album—that Paul, Tommy, Slim and Chris would ever play together. And in that light it’s a stunning farewell. With lyrics—as had come to be expected from Paul at this point—that were indeed revealing.

When you open that bottle of wine
You open a can of worms every time
Now you don't stop, that ain't true
Never said a word I never had to
It was my attitude that you thought was rude

Old habits are hard to break
And I don't know how much I can take
What I think is on the tip of my tongue
Do I…let it slip?
It was my attitude that you thought was rude

Remember sitting back in school?
I held my tongue until it turned blue
They said I had an attitude

You just failed my test
'Cause I know you be the best
So wipe me off as you conclude
A P.O.V. is what I can't use
I got an attitude

This is a delicious little song and such a fitting way of closing the shop down once and for all. There’s a raucous giddiness here in the way the band plays off one another, something we probably hadn’t heard on a Replacements album since Pleased to Meet Me, but once had been so commonplace on Let It Be (with Bob Stinson, not Slim, on lead guitar back then). The song has an acoustic country shuffle and some terrifically playful drumming by Chris. Tommy’s jaunty bassline gives a bouncing punch to it, and Slim and Paul offer some lovely little cascading fills over the rhythm line.

The lyrics are rife with wordplay, contradictions and open-ended queries, the kind of head-fakes, winks and nods that Paul was so fond of using and so damn adept at. “It’s your fault! Nah, it’s not.” “You failed, and I know you’ll be awesome.” Things which never let you in on exactly what Paul and his mates are working through, but the one thing we know is it’s never, ever simple.

The contradictions are never more apparent than the last few lines, where it’s fascinating how Paul finishes with what seems to be a major kissoff to the band, making it clear he’s not interested in their point of view, yet then maybe takes ownership of the problems in the last thing he says (“I got an attitude”).

This is a man who once famously sang, “Everything I’ve ever wanted—tell me what’s wrong,” and a band plagued by a destructive, near-cripping fear throughout their existance that likely kept them from the commercial success they so deserved. That old friend seems back one last time to haunt both Paul and the band on "Attitude." They play with such fervor and with the ease of guys who have been doing this for so long that they know each other’s every move. Even as they perform a song replete with regret and frustration.

We’ve discussed before how startling it can be when a band on its last legs can offer up something so good. Think of The Band's performance in The Last Waltz. Or for the perfect studio example, The Beatles—barely able to be in the same room together anymore—yet still able to put together the perfection that was Side 2 of Abbey Road. Feelings grow hard, but talent and personal connection usually win out.

That’s the Replacements with “Attitude,” the real parting shot they offered their longtime fans. It’s pretty much the only way the ‘Mats could have ever said goodbye—having the time of their lives while singing about how unhappy they all are together.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for articulating the things I like about this album, which most people regard with derision.