FLASHBACK: LET IT BE BY THE REPLACEMENTS

This review first appeared six years and one day ago on January 6, 2007. I have added and edited a few words to this version.

blog_TheMats_LetItBe

Let It Be is not as consistent as its follow-up, Tim, but it contains more of The Replacement’s best songs. It also contains filler in the worst sense of the word, but that is forgivable since it is surrounded by wonderful hardcore and straightforward rockers, as well as sincere acoustic guitar and piano based-ballads.

blog_TheMats_Live

“I Will Dare” – featuring old-timey guitar and even a mandolin – and “Favorite Thing,” also with a twangy guitar, are cleaner (but hardly pristine) updates of their earlier sound. After these opening tracks, the band revisits that earlier sound with the album’s hardest-rocking numbers, “We’re Coming Out” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out.” (The latter provides two minutes of comic relief, but it’s too bad that Paul Westerberg stumbles over the lyrics in the second verse.)

Following these four rockers, the rest of the worthwhile tracks are basically ballads, and are just as good and sometimes better than the disc’s rock songs. “Androgynous,” which follows on the heels of “Tommy,” is a stunner. Musically, it is shoved along by a weeping piano. Lyrically, it vividly portrays the desolate streets of a small Midwestern town, where anything other than stiflingly normal is suspect: “Kewpie dolls and urine stalls/Will be laughed at/The way you’re laughed at now.” (I am originally from such a town, so I know what Westerberg is talking about.) This song shows the influence of the more haunting moments of the Big Star record Third/Sister Lovers.

Finally, in terms of the good songs, the acoustic “Unsatisfied” and the electric “Answering Machine” makes Westerberg’s influence on the alternative scene that blossomed in the early 90s blatantly obvious.

Let It Be is not perfect, of course. “Seen You’re Video” and “Gary’s Got a Boner” are the previously-mentioned offending filler. The cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond” isn’t terribly bad, but it isn’t terribly inspired, either. Finally, “Sixteen Blue” is often praised for its portrayal of “the hardest age.” Granted, it makes some accurate enough observations, but as a song, it isn’t really anything special (except for Bob Stinson’s cool fade-out guitar).

This is one of several songs on the disc that indicate that Westerberg was looking to his teenage years for lyrical inspiration. However, the Kiss cover and Ted Nugent riff on “Gary’s Got a Boner” suggest that he and Stinson may have relied too much on their teenage record collection for musical inspiration. Nevertheless, there are several more palpable points of reference, too, such as the New York Dolls, Alex Chilton (duh), and that other Minneapolis post-punk outfit, Hüsker Dü.

blog_TheMats_color

I was only 8 years old when Let It Be was released, and too into classic rock when my high school classmates got into The Replacements via Paul Westerberg’s solo work. For both reasons, I don’t have any memories of listening to the band when I could have really related to their songs. In fact, I didn’t really start listening to them until I was in my late 20s. The fact that they can be appreciated so many years after the fact is evidence of the timeless quality of their songs, and proof that they were as responsible for albums that were as essential to the 80s as those by American peers such as Hüsker Dü, R.E.M., and The Pixies.

Advertisements

FLASHBACK: THE WHO SELL OUT

Originally posted six years ago today on Amazon.com. I was actually a bit late in getting around to The Who, but as they say, there is no zealot like the convert.

blog_The-Who-Sell-Out-lp

Where (or When) The Who Joined the Ranks of the Great

The Who Sell Out (1967) proved that The Who was not just another quick singles band for whom an LP was too large of a canvas. The Who Sings My Generation showed promise, but its follow-up A Quick One was undercooked. Sell Out was when they finally produced a complete set of all original songs that was uniformly strong from beginning to end. The sound on this record was much less mod, and an lot more pop and psychedelia. Fortunately, they were careful to not sound too much like freaks or hippies (cause after all, they were neither). Instead, Townshend was determined to embrace the sound of the late 60s without simply blending into it. And while their ambition was obvious, the fake commercials that connect the songs – including two longer ones written by John Entwistle – indicated that the band was unwilling to itself too seriously.

blog_The+Who+sell+out_Pic

For as much of a quintessential Who album as Sell Out is, it opens with a song written by John “Speedy” King, a friend of the band and later a member of Thunderclap Newman. “Armenia City in the Sky” is about as psychedelic as The Who ever got, lyrically and musically.

“I Can See For Miles,” the band’s only US Top 10, is another slice of psychedelia, with its crashing drums, insistent guitar, and far off images of the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand,” meanwhile, is an inviting acoustic singalong in the vein of The Grateful Dead’s folkier moments (think “Uncle John’s Band”). The Who also reinforced its powerful pop dimension on the gorgeous tunes “Our Love Was” and “I Can’t Reach You.” Finally, there is Entwistle’s lone full-length contribution, “Silas Stingy,” which anticipated The Small Faces’ 1968 classic Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.

And honestly, the great stuff doesn’t end there. “Tattoo” is a poignant, even bittersweet song that uses its title subject to symbolize an act of youthful rebellion of which the narrator will be forever reminded. Daltrey is in particularly fine form here. Indicating that Townshend was in a forward-thinking mode, the acoustic arpeggios on “Sunrise” and the electric riffs on “Rael 1” foreshadow Tommy. The only slip on the CD is “Odorono”, which is a bit silly and may have worked better in shorter form as one of the commercials.

At the point in their young career at which they needed to make a great record, The Who went above and beyond the call of duty with The Who Sell Out. The songs themselves were more solid than ever before, and the band milked the LP format for all that it was worth. Unfortunately, “I Can See For Miles” is the only track that has endured to the point of being known to non-Who fans, but at least a half-dozen other songs are among The Who’s best. Fans and critics will continue to bicker over whether Sell Out or Who’s Next is their best album. Even if Who’s Next remains the greatest by the standard of general consensus, The Who Sell Out will always be their most entertaining.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hje28F-IhLo