Our relationship with art changes over time. In our instantaneous iPhone age, we don’t live with albums or movies or TV shows or books like we used to. With “Re-Reviews,” we re-explore our relationship with a piece of pop culture — and how that relationship evolves over time. We dismiss some art unfairly — or prematurely. Perhaps certain songs or bits of dialogue didn’t resonate because of our mood or our position in life. On the other hand, perhaps our adoration of some childhood favorite is clouded by nostalgia. Does this even matter?
When I first listened to the Replacements’ final album, All Shook Down, I liked it for what I thought it was: the last record of a band that broke up prematurely and unexpectedly.
I was 15 when it was released in 1990.
But listening to it now 23 years later, I finally get it.
When All Shook Down first came out, a lot of hardcore Replacements fans dismissed it as a sell-out album: a mellow, shallow, overproduced attempt at mainstream stardom. And in a sense, it was.
The Replacements, after all, started out as anti-establishment, don’t-give-a-fuck, rock-and-rollers who spent more time drunk and high than sober. On the band’s first album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, frontman Paul Westerberg screamed more than he sang. Their music was about being young and rebellious. It was loud, fast and simple.
All Shook Down is not; because it was never really meant to be a Replacements album to begin with. It was originally supposed to be Westerberg’s solo album debut. But the band’s record company, Sire, persuaded them to release it under the Replacements name. And, it earned the band mainstream attention, a trend started by the band’s previous album, Don’t Tell a Soul.
Most of the album was recorded by Westerberg and various session musicians, with the exception of the acoustic-guitar-driven “Attitude,” the album’s ninth track, which featured all four members playing together – drummer Chris Mars, bassist Tommy Stinson and guitarist Slim Dunlap, along with Westerberg.
Older and wiser than when I was 15, All Shook Down feels like a different album than when I first heard it. I missed out on what it was about the first time around. I realize now it’s about letting go and starting new. It’s about growing up. And that’s something The Replacements could never do. Because they were never that kind of band. With songs such as “Merry Go Round” – a song about suicide – and the slow-tempo acoustic “Sadly Beautiful” (which features the Velvet Underground’s John Cale on viola), a song – which has been argued – about death, All Shook Down can be viewed as Westerberg’s farewell to The Replacements.
One of the more upbeat — and dare I say, fun — tracks on this album is “My Little Problem.” Westerberg gets help on this one from Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, who provides additional vocals. “The Last” is Westerberg’s ode to getting sober, set to a bluesy, lounge-club arrangement. This is the most telling of Westerberg’s mindset at this point in his career: It’s time to grow up and move on.
All Shook Down isn’t a great Replacements album. Because it’s not at all what The Replacements were about. It is, however, a great Paul Westerberg album — one that showcases a much more confident, mature, introspective artist. And now, more than two decades later, The Replacements have announced they’ll be playing together again, with the possibility of recording a new album.
Going back through the band’s entire catalog, I understand now that the breakup of the Replacements was neither premature nor unexpected. It had been hinted at in the band’s last several albums, as Westerberg’s songwriting matured and the music got mellower. It simply came at the right time.
It’s chilling now to listen to “Someone Take the Wheel,” the album’s sixth track, where Westerberg admits it’s the end: “Someone take the wheel, and I don’t care where we’re going,” he sings. “Anybody say what you feel / Everybody’s sad, but nobody’s showin’.”
With age and distance between them, can The Replacements go back to what they were before: a bunch of kids getting fucked up, fighting, and rallying against authority, the lovable losers who just can’t and don’t want to win? No. No they can’t, because as you get older, it takes a toll. And sometimes, you have to know when to call it quits. Westerberg, of all people knew that. But it’s always nice to reminisce.