Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Replacements - Let It Be review

Punk music represents an ideology that embraces individual freedoms and anti-establishment views.  In addition to the fast and raw playing style, the lyrics are often confrontational, frequently commenting on societal and political issues.  Twenty-six years ago American punk band, The Replacements, released their third album, Let It Be, to near universal praise.  Initially starting their career as a hardcore punk rock band, the band soon grew tired of playing hardcore "buzzsaw drone" style music, and in 1983, The Replacements started to perform gigs with their entire sets consisting of covers with the intent to antagonize whoever was in the audience. 

The Replacements' lead singer, Paul Westerberg, explained that the punks who made up their audience thought that they themselves and the music they listened to stood for a 'there are no rules' and 'everyone does what they want' aesthetic, but when The Replacements would take the stage and perform an entire set of 70s pop covers, which was exactly the kind of thing punk was supposed to stand against, a hypocrisy arose and suddenly there "were rules and you couldn't do that, and you had to be fast, and you had to wear black, and you couldn't wear a plaid shirt with flares ... So we'd play the DeFranco Family, that kind of shit, just to piss 'em off."

Thus is the attitude and legacy of The Replacements.  With Let It Be, The Replacements bucked the trend in punk music and started to focus on writing songs driven by melody and Westerberg's "heart-on-his-sleeve" lyrics.  For a genre that was so invested in youth culture and standing for the rights and demands of the younger generation, punk music always appeared to lack the intimacy of the individual.  Punk music in the 70s was so concerned about voicing opinions on what was wrong with society, but it wasn't until 1984 that The Replacements turned the magnifying glass inward and started to explore the turmoil that was present in the individual.  On Let It Be, The Replacements explored the reasons why the punks were rebelling, and uncovered the feelings of alienation and teenage angst.

Let It Be marked The Replacements move towards self-deprecating lyrics that focused on the plights of the youth.  Every song tells a personal tale, yet the themes explored are near universal.  On the piano ballad "Androgynous", Westerberg's lyrics lament the misunderstood artsy types that don't fit in, and on "Sixteen Blue" Westerberg manages to sum up every awkward feeling and trepidation experienced by every teenager ever. 
Let me be clear, this album shreds.  The Replacements were influenced by classic punk acts like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, and the instrumentation is as hard hitting as any other classic punk record.  Westerberg's sandpaper voice screams and scrawls itself throughout each track, marking both immediacy and a poignancy in every song.
There are some tracks that at first glance, may seem like filler, particularly when you look at the song titles.  Tracks like "Gary's Got a Boner" and "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out", are funny when taken at face value, but when you consider the songs in the context of the rest of the album, you see that the songs aren't filler, they are important and have their place on the record.  Let It Be is a record about being young made by a band who were young.  They understood the traumas and the heartbreaks, the confusion and the frustration.  The Replacements were able to make even the most trivial events seem urgent and utterly crushing.  Take, for example, the last track, "Answering Machine", when Westerberg pleads:

"How do you say I miss you to
an answering machine?
How do you say goodnight to
an answering machine?
How do you say I'm lonely to
an answering machine?"

No matter how old you are, you can feel the pangs of desperation in your heart.  Let It Be is a near perfect record, punk or otherwise.  It is a piece of nostalgia, a piece of youth.  It doesn't let you fantasize about your awkward adolescent stages; instead it forces you to face the reality, and to embrace it.  People grow up and people change, but Let It Be is a time capsule, a dusty teenage diary found in an attic.  The songs are events frozen in time, so that you can look back on them, and never forget the things that made you into the person you are today.
Artist: The Replacements
Album: Let It Be
Release Date: October 2nd 1984 


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