Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fashionably Late to the Music Party

'ja ever notice that it's cool to be fashionably late to a social gathering but lethal to be fashionably late to a pop culture discovery? Meanwhile, I tend to get to parties early and stumble on cool stuff long after it's stopped being the topic of conversation. Nowhere is this more consistently true than music. Usually I'm hopping on a bus riiiiight at the time everyone else is jumping or sauntering off.

Par for the course, I fell in love with the Replacements in late spring of 1989 with my discovery of Don't Tell a Soul. A closeted gay friend of mine who was miles ahead on the hip-o-meter had pushed the band on me. He insisted that their latest album was "suitable to your bubblegum palette." Because he'd hit the jackpot that fall by demanding I purchase The Innocents by Erasure, and because he'd only demanded a music purchase out of me three or four times in high school, I complied with his demands.

Not to exaggerate, but I might well have listened to Don't Tell a Soul 500 times before the end of that 1989 summer. I played it constantly.

The critic at allmusic.com totally shits on this album. In general, I have great respect for allmusic.com, because they generally review things within the scope of that artist's domain. That is, even Debbie Gibson gets 4 1/2 stars for her best album. And let's be honest. If you're the person looking into Debbie Gibson's biography and discography, you probably have some sense of her musical CV. And, odds are, you either like it or know it sucks synthesized ass. Either way, what's most useful to you is not a collection of CDs that have all been given 1/2 star, but rather a sense of what were Debbie's highs and lows. Where did she kick as much ass as Debbie could kick? When did she officially start dialing it in?

For that, AllMusic is awesome, and most of the time they're spot-on.

But when you discover a band well into its second or third act, it's bound to screw with your notion of them. For example, I discovered REM halfway between Life's Rich Pageant and Document. While my cool classmates had heard "Radio Free Europe" and "Rockville" a bajillion times, my first encounter with the band was a much more tightly-produced, carefully-worded pop album with downright anthemic moments. If your first REM love is "These Days" and "Superman," then reaching back for Murmur just isn't that easy.

Likewise, I'll never understand how anyone who appreciates the notion of cohesive, listenable music could say Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash is better or more enjoyable than Don't Tell a Soul. The first is wildly messy and cacophonous and atonal in places. Yes, I guess this makes it great stuff for the snotty critic, but in my view, their early stuff was just heavily intoxicated garble created by people who really wanted to make poppy rock. That is, in my opinion, this band always wanted to make TIM (which I agree with the AllMusic gods is their best album) and just didn't really know how to do it. 'Cuz they were too fuckin' drunk and stoned. And Westerberg didn't really know yet how to craft an actual song, with beginnings and endings and bridges and such, so he just vomited out a few clever lines here and there.

I tend to find people's claims of musical sell-outs solely because they signed big contracts and obtain high-end production to be akin to idiots who insist Spielberg was a much better director in the low-budget DUEL than once he had corporate financing with JAWS, E.T., etc. Sure, you can see the brilliance and potential in that early film, but once he had money and assistance, it was a different ballgame.

Maybe this is where I get mixed up. Maybe adolescent musical vomiting makes for what's great about rock, and once someone starts to tame it, get control of it, and ride that bull for a full eight seconds, it's well on its way to becoming Michael Bolton. But I don't buy that. I think the Replacements started improving as Paul Westerburg got less drunk and more controlling of the band's direction. I think their last three albums are better than their first three. And anyone who denies that Paul's stuff on the Singles soundtrack was pure pop gold should go ahead and chomp down on that cyanide pill the rock snobs gave you when they indoctrinated you into their cult.

Anyway, if you have some curiosity about those '80s critical darlings The Replacements, better known to the snobbish as "The 'Mats," I insist that your first album be TIM, but I ask you to consider that your follow-up purchase be the album "most suitable to your bubblegum palette": Don't Tell a Soul.

My Top 11 All-Time Favorite Replacements Songs:
  1. Kiss Me On the Bus
  2. Waitress In the Sky
  3. My Little Problem
  4. Alex Chilton
  5. Achin' To Be
  6. We'll Inherit the Earth
  7. Nobody
  8. Left of the Dial
  9. Within Your Reach
  10. Here Comes a Regular
  11. I'll Be You
If any of you find yourselves intrigued by these, or by the Replacements, I'll happily fire off another 20 Great 'Mats Songs faster 'n' you can say "Bastards of Young." For those of you who fell in love with the 'Mats before I even knew what alcohol was good for, I await your reasons why I'm a moron.


BeckEye said...

I think The Replacements were at their best making near-bubblegum pop. "Alex Chilton" has gotta be one of the best pop songs ever recorded. It's right up there with FOW's "Red Dragon Tattoo" for me.

I didn't discover Stone Roses until their 2nd album, which I actually liked and still do, but it was ripped apart as complete shit by die-hard fans. Then when I went back and listened to their first record I understood what they were talking about. The first record is better. But I still don't think that second one is shit.

Bob said...

I came later to the party than that, not hearing the Replacements until John (of yesterday's post) bought All Shook Down, by which time they were already finished. Worked backwards slowly and haphzardly, but mostly worked forward.

I'm that weird guy who thinks Westerberg solo is better than most of the Replacements stuff, who thinks Bob Mould solo is better than much of Husker Du.

As your first line suggests, that is likely a result of when I arrived at the party.

By the way, coincidentally, I was searching Westerberg on hypem last night and came across this nice little live set, circa the Eventually cd: http://captainsdead.com/westy-of-kfog.html . He plays a few of your favs from your list.

John said...

I've long since lost that cd. Do you have a copy of it?

Bob said...


goofytakemyhand said...

I love the 'Mats, but I concur with Bob that the solo stuff Westerberg is producing out of his basement is better... Highly recommend Stereo/Mono double CD, Come Feel Me Tremble, and Dead Man Shake under his "Grandpaboy" moniker.

jed said...

i could go on for days...but i won't. westerberg is the best american songwriter alive. but, don't overlook tommy stinson. pick up "bash & bop" and "perfect." jim dickinson said he met keith richards and tommy and tommy was the living embodiment of rock and roll. strong. don was called paul the greatest rhythm guitar player he had ever heard. strong. the beauty is too much to bear....
nice post Billy!!!