It's First Impressions week here on The Album Wall, which basically means that I've been listening to various albums for the first time and blogging my thoughts on the fly. I've already shared my primordial opinions on Sparklehorse and Superchunk; now it's the turn of The Replacements.
First, though, a little context. My first exposure to The Replacements came when I purchased Let It Be at a CD and record fair in St. David's Hall. More recently, I bought all five of the band's albums in a bargain box-set thing from Fopp. I've already listened to Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and Hootenanny, but I've been saving Tim for First Impressions Week, denying myself its splendour until today.
See, while Let It Be seems to be viewed as the band's best album, its follow-up contains the songs - namely Left of the Dial and Here Comes a Regular - that people most often allude to when they're talking about Paul Westerberg & Co. For this reason, I've got high hopes for Tim, and so, without further ado...
- Hold My Life
This opener seems pretty soft by The Replacements' standards, but perhaps my idea of the band's sound has been skewed by Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. Hold My Life is a world away from the band's early, punky work, but while the jangly guitars and the Michael Stipe-esque chorus are nice enough, I don't think it's a classic on the same level as I Will Dare from Let It Be.
- I'll Buy
Ah, now this is closer to the trashy, snotty Replacements of yore. "Give mah regards to Broadway!" I'll Buy lands somewhere between NYC punk and '50s rock 'n' roll, and while it feels kinda throwaway at first, it does become oddly alluring after a couple of minutes.
- Kiss Me on the Bus
None of these tracks are as immediate or as in-your-face as the short, shouty cuts from Sorry Ma, but they feel - even at this early stage - like they'll keep my interest for far longer. Kiss Me on the Bus is kinda laid-back - even more so than anything on Let It Be, which itself was a lot softer than Sorry Ma. To be honest, this song's kind of unremarkable, but as I say, maybe it's a grower.
- Dose of Thunder
Now, I don't remember being especially impressed by Let It Be when first I heard it, and so I probably shouldn't be too worried just yet. But here we are, listening to track 4, and this album has yet to really grab me. Dose of Thunder is loose and noisier than the first three songs, but it still doesn't sound particularly interesting to these ears. I'm still waiting for something as good as Unsatisfied or Favorite Thing, or something as exhilarating as We're Comin' Out.
- Waitress in the Sky
Like I'll Buy, this is another song that sounds very heavily influenced by old-fashioned rock 'n' roll. It's a side of The Replacements that I've never really heard before, and while it does sound a little too much like pastiche, I think I rather like it. This is my favourite so far, anyway.
- Swingin' Party
The hell is this? Swingin' Party comes on like a Spandau Ballet song - it's by far the softest thing I've heard from The Replacements (although I haven't got 'round to Pleased to Meet Me yet...maybe that whole album is like this?)
In fairness, once I'd overcome the shock of how un-Replacements it sounds, Swingin' Party is actually a pretty sweet song. I think it might be this album's Androgynous; it's not as shambolic as the Let It Be track, but it's just as melodically strong, and it seems designed to make people say, "Hey, these guys do have other strings in their bow, after all!"
- Bastards of Young
I like this one. It's unassuming and catchy in a slackerly sort of way. The guitars chug nicely during the verses, and the chorus ("We are the sons of no one!") feels utterly anthemic (the ending is a bit strange, but we'll let them off). I bet this song sounds great live, with the audience joining in.
- Lay it Down Clown
I suspect that this is as 'punk' as Tim is going to get. Lay it Down Clown has more attitude than anything else thus far, although again, it's very informed by the '50s, especially the Little Richard piano solo in the middle - they even do the obligatory rolls at the end, which makes me certain they're taking the piss.
- Left of the Dial
Ah, now this is one of the tracks that I've heard people talk about. I was expecting this to be a real showstopper, but actually, it's a little bit 'meh' compared to the rock 'n' rolly tracks. The sound is great, and I love the skyrocketing guitars at around 2mins 15secs, but Paul Westerberg is buried in the background somewhere, and he struggles to make his usual impact from all the way back there.
Having said that, things do pick up when they get to the song's title and jam out 'til the end. Shame that bit doesn't last longer, really.
- Little Mascara
I dunno...it seems like they're kind of phoning it in at this stage. Little Mascara sounds like it was written in about ten minutes when someone at the label demanded an extra track for the album - it's not bad, at all, and there's a lovely little guitar solo in there somewhere, but it's just The Replacements-by-numbers. They could have at least written something silly, like Gary's Got a Boner from Let It Be - now that's filler I can get behind!
- Here Comes a Regular
There's a lot resting on this track - I think the quality (or otherwise) of Here Comes a Regular will have a big impact on my overall opinion of Tim as an album. Here we go...
Omigosh I love it. It's a 'lighters in the air' moment, something I never really expected to get from The Replacements; for the most part, it's just Paul Westerberg and an acoustic guitar, although some warbly synth pads and a beautiful piano interlude add just enough depth to keep it interesting. I expected a song called Here Comes a Regular to be drunken and swaggery (is that a word?), and it does appear to be about drinking, but God - it's so touching and lovely and, yes, it's made me think a lot more of the album as a whole. Great stuff.
So yeah. While Tim certainly ain't no Let It Be - at least at first glance - it still has its fair share of top tunes. I'm a little surprised at myself for, by and large, preferring the rock 'n' roll callbacks to any of the other tracks, but there we are.
Oddly, I think the most Replacement-esque tracks (like Little Mascara and Dose of Thunder) were actually my least favourite moments; I much preferred the songs like Swingin' Party and Here Comes a Regular, on which they left their comfort zone a little. It just goes to show something, probably.