Yeah, I know I look like hell
I smoke and I drink and I’m feeling swell
Yeah, I hear you think it’s weird
But I don’t give a single shit
There’s the wisdom of Let It Be for you in a nutshell, what more do you need? There are songs about permanent boners, getting your tonsils taken out, a KISS cover and a couple of moments of beautifully judged heart-breaking adolescent angst, all life is here. Those zany Beatles eh? What? Yeah, Let It Be …
I wanted Let It Be for years before I bought the Replacements Twin/Tone Box set last year, partly fuelled by their raggedly glorious chapter in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life*, the sheer chutzpah of the album name** and that brilliant cover photo of the band on the Stinson family’s roof. I’m now in love with it all, utterly unreservedly in love for the first time and this time I know it’s for real.
Slinking out of Minneapolis the Replacements were always far too rebellious and rowdy for the mores and niceties of the, by then, straight-jacketing punk scene and quickly rolled on past their own jokey hardcore origins, finding their own voice and sound – winding their audiences up by growing their hair out, not sporting leather jackets, covering De Franco Family songs and just generally not conforming. By the time of 1984’s Let It Be, main songwriter Paul Westerberg had it nailed down between tender/insensitive and mature/immature and his band of ramshackle warriors were ready to rumble.
The band originally met up with REM’s Peter Buck as a prospective producer but they didn’t have enough songs ready, so he dispensed some advice and left them with a great jangly guitar solo on the opener ‘I Will Dare’. It’s a thing of rare staggering beauty this track, it just sounds happy and optimistic to me, an irresistible rhythm and such a great walking bass line too, Westerberg’s 80 cigarette voice preventing this song of reckless love from getting remotely twee. ‘Favourite Thing’ is another, umm, ‘favorite’ thing on here, spikier and edgier it propels us onwards, ever onwards, like all good songwriting does. This time straight into the mutant punker ‘We’re Comin’ Out’ which boasts an awesome breakdown where some additional musicianship is credited on the sleeve ‘Paul plays piano and snaps his fingers’ – awesome!
For me the real jewels on Let It Be are the feeling-y songs, ‘Androgynous’ and ‘Sixteen Blue’. ‘Androgynous’ is a bit of an amusing treat, Westerberg virtually solo lays it down like a Transformer outtake whilst banging out a plea for tolerance (‘And today, the people dress the way that they please / The way they tried to do in the last centuries’, makes me smile every time^^). ‘Sixteen Blue’ is the special one here and a frailer, gentler strum I can’t imagine. I have never heard a band deal with that awkward period of adolescence where you know nothing, know everything, are frightened of nothing and worry about everything so well; it’s done with such compassion and empathy that elderly me just wants to smile ruefully – the secret? a rare, total and impressive lack of cynicism.
I struggle to think of an LP more redolent of the band who created its’ personality than Let It Be, that wonderful mash-up of serious silly, the jokier tracks which might have been a distraction or an irritation in another context work perfectly here and you get the full picture. I love the Replacements’ cover of ‘Black Diamond’, played totally straight it works a treat between ‘Androgynous’ and the wonky heartland rock of ‘Unsatisfied’, where Westerberg’s voice is a perfectly imperfect, when he rasps ‘I’m so, I’m so unsatisfied / I’m so dissatisfied’ you feel it. To launch from that into the soaring new wave, mostly instrumental ‘Seen Your Video’ is just perfection and then to shift gear into ‘Gary’s Got a Boner’ … it floors me. ‘ … Boner’ incidentally sounds like the Heartbreakers covering Mötörhead and that is a very, very good thing in my book. Then to go from that into ‘Sixteen Blue’ … well you get the picture.
Final track ‘Answering Machine’ is yet another raucous, ragged treat, more so because there is a flash of real emotion and anger in the mix too; tasty. What a band the Replacements were too, the Stinson brothers on lead and bass guitars are great, nothing ever flash just everything in its’ right place, Chris Mars is an excellent drummer and again, complete no frills, Westerberg adding keys and rhythm guitar. along with his finger snaps does it just right again.
But the Replacements had another element that set them apart, a thrillingly uncontrived kernel of chaos, which simultaneously gave their music its charge and conspired to make sure they would never hit the success their talents would otherwise have commanded. A friend mine saw them touring this LP and said they were incredible for 20 minutes and then started bickering and fell apart on stage, walking off after 35 minutes not to return; their whole career in microcosm.
They were going to call their next album Let It Bleed but they never quite got around to it, that figures.
*the best book on music that I never quite got around to buying after I borrowed my mate’s copy. They should print that last sentence and use it as testimony on the book jacket.
**a wind-up of their Beatles loving manager and a straight up statement that nothing was sacred as far as they were concerned.
^Mrs 1537, obviously.
^^cheesy enough for Let It Brie?