Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Radio Free Europe

This is in its way a very small tragedy—or, maybe more accurately, a symbol of a small tragedy.

This album is a semi-legendary document from the independent rock scene of the 80s, a bootleg of a drunken (surprise surprise) November 11, 1984 Oklahoma City show put on by The Replacements with remarkable fine audio quality. It's a surprisingly enjoyable listen, once you adjust to the fact that they jump from song to song like someone restlessly switching radio stations, rarely finishing any song, even their own. But they don't even bother with many of their own originals, only playing 5 'Mats tunes out of the 24 (or so) songs on the record.

Which is fine, since the covers are delightful if you're a child of the 70s or 80s, and remarkably well played, given how hammered the band very clearly is. This was a band of good musicians who knew their material very, very well—well enough that they were able to rip through credible versions of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy songs, even though intoxicated enough to barely stand; really, Paul Westerberg's vocals are generally the weak point, although it's notable that he's got the melodies and phrasing down cold, even as the lyrics and key often elude his grasp.

But then they turn their sights on peers and friends R.E.M. And you quickly realize that they could have done a staggeringly great cover of [early] R.E.M.'s signature tune—in Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars, the 'Mats've got a rhythm section that can match even the great Mike Mills/Bill Berry combo—one of the greatest and most innovative of all time—and in Westerberg and Bob Stinson they've got a pair of guitarists who are, if not quite as unusual and imaginative as Peter Buck, certainly more technically accomplished at the time, and by dint of numbers, significantly more powerful.

This could have been one for the ages. This could have thrown shade on The Who covering The Rolling Stones back in 1967. This could have been more like Otis Redding covering the Stones, if not quite like Aretha Franklin covering Otis Redding: one great artist covering another great artist, bringing new insights to great material already done magnificently.

Instead it is what it is: a kinda fun sloppy sad little mess. Ladies and gentlemen, the Replacements.

No comments:

Post a Comment