Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Everything's Coming Up Roses- The Return Of The Replacements!!!

This Spring is the season of the old rocker. I'm telling you. Weren't you asking? Oh. Anyway here's the deal. Youth culture is dead. Trust fund hipsters with beards listening ironically to metal and hardcore, drinking PBR and getting lip tattoos...that was the last of youth culture, it's over. Bye Bye. Those kids may seem rebellious but deep down they all want to be CEO of Starbucks or at least Team Leader at Whole Foods. Off the grid, my ass.

No, no, fearless reader, the only true punks are the original punks, and butter my cheeks if those guys aren't all pushing 50 or 60 or 70 at this point. Is Iggy Pop more punk than the guy from Fucked Up? Yes he is. Who is more like Bruce Springsteen, Brian Fallon or the actual Bruce Springsteen? We could jaw that one up all day and night.The fact is, this culture of ours, (punk/indie/underground/alterna-whatever blanket general term ya gots) will likely not ever die. But it will likely be incredibly boring forever and ever, amen.

There has not, for instance, been anyone who qualifies as a "new Paul Westerberg". Westerberg, the singer/songwriter behind life changing 80s indie/punk/powerpoppers the Replacements (the 'Mats, to true fans), is a true American original. Not original in the sense that he didn't copy Alex Chilton and Johnny Thunders to death (literally), but in the sense that the distillation that came out of him had not been done before and is unmistakably him, and his. Broken hearted, anthemic guitar pop/rootsy rock'n'roll with poetic-ish lyrics and a good dose of midwestern self loathing, it was, and although Springsteen and Dylan and others have gone down that road, nobody can say that the Replacements didn't at least have the courtesy to pave it on their ramshackle trip down, opening the door for lots of other people like the Goo Goo Dolls, Ryan Adams, Lucero, Wilco, Son Volt, etc who all became rich and famous doing a less heartfelt and slicker version of the 'Mats schtick.

^Tommy and Paul Then^

My point here is, there have been no viable successors to Paul Westerberg's throne. There have been no "new Iggy Pops". There have been no British pop/rock bands with the brains and brawn of the mighty Suede. No new David Bowies. And why do we need that? If the kids don't want to produce anything interesting, if youth culture is now safe, watered down, corporate in nature and actually MORE boring than the "boring old farts", why do we need it? Especially not when ALL of the aforementioned artists have NEW work out, or coming soon, that is among their best work in decades.

Just downloaded the new Replacements disc, their first in over 20 years. It was done as an attempt to raise funds for former 'Mats guitarist Slim Dunlap, who has had a very nasty stroke. It's been very successful as a fundraiser, and listening to it now, I can say it's very successful as rock and roll music, as well.

Kicking off with a cover of Slim Dunlaps' solo tune "Busted Up", the Replacements (who now consist of the two main 'Mats, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, plus a couple of Minneapolis session guys on drums and 2nd guitar)immediately show much improved chops and a less raggedy/sloppy rhythm than the 'Mats of old, while somehow NOT losing that spontaneous, unrehearsed vibe they always had. It sounds like an older wiser Westerberg and Stinson,yes. Two guys who have learned to play their guitars and sing better over the years. But it doesn't lack one bit in the attitude department. They can still, as Paul put it recently "rock like murder". The song itself is a fun jump blues/rockabilly type roots number, catchy as all get out.

^Paul Westerberg Now^

Next up is former drummer Chris Mars' contribution to the EP, a cover of Slim Dunlap's "Radio Hook Word Hit". Apparently Chris, while not really keen on the idea of being in a room playing music with the other 'Mats, did want to be involved so he recorded this tune by himself and painted the awesome cover art as well. The song is good, a very late 80s/early 90s sounding number, one you indeed could imagine being on the radio in the "alternative" era. It's a good song, well played, and doesn't distract from the greatness that is happening around it, but it's not part of that greatness, if you get my drift.

After that comes the REAL shit. "I'm Not Sayin'" is a cover of a 1960s Gordon Lightfoot song that Westerberg learned through a cover by Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico. I haven't heard the original, but this song sounds tailor made for the band that wrote "Little Mascara", "Left Of The Dial" and "Merry Go Round". It rocks in that catchy, bar-room way while still broadcasting the depth of feeling and subtle melancholy that only Westerberg can wring out of a 3 chord rock'n'roll song. He even throws in a reference to/impression of tragic hero Johnny Thunders at the end of the song when he croons "Don't try..." just like Thunders did on "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory", one of his finest songs. Perfect. This is the hit, and this is the shit, guys and ghouls.

^Tommy Stinson Now^

"Lost Highway" barges in next, and this one is a cover of a cover of a cover. You see, there was this songwriter in the 1940s called Leon Payne. He wrote great songs, a few of which were covered by the great Hank Williams, including "Lost Highway". Now, Hank was no slouch in the songwriting department his own damn self, but he felt moved enough by this song to give it a haunting, intense treatment that became one of his signature tunes. Then, in the 1980's, a great country punk band from Nashville named Jason and The Scorchers covered it, with a vicious, rocking arrangement that certainly out crunches any previous version. Now the 'Mats have covered that version. They've tightened up the groove by slowing it down a tad, and bringing out the swinging rather than pummeling aspects of the Scorchers' arrangement, but it still ROCKS. Oh my goodness how it rocks. Westerberg's voice cracks a bit in that heartbreaking and human way that it used to, and he endears himself even further by accidentally mush-mouthing the line about the jug of wine, while the band slides and stumbles around him like the Faces on anti depressants and my friend, it's just heaven.

Sadly there's only one more song left, but there's always the repeat button, and I already know I'm going to click on that. The final tune is "Everything's Coming Up Roses". This song is from a 1959 Broadway Musical called "Gypsy", and sure, it's a funny choice, but Westerberg has always had a thing for show tunes. The 'Mats do this one great justice, keeping tongues firmly in cheek while proving that a good pop song is always going to be a good pop song.

Basically, people, this is a new recording by my favorite band of all time. I'm either going to love it despite it's faults or be bitterly disappointed. Thankfully, the boys didn't let me down one bit. It's poignant, it's rocking, it's fun. It's everything the Replacements were at their best, and everything I miss about rock'n'roll the way it used to be. Thanks Paul, Thanks Tommy. Bless you Slim.