Friday, June 30, 2006

Vinyl Tap: The Replacements - Tim

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #10:

It was Elvis Costello who once announced that he wanted to bite the hand that feeds him. But the Replacements made a meal of it, and it had nothing to do with the time I saw them live -- and intermittingly upright -- in a not untypical and increasingly drunken performance that ended up with a presumably satiated Paul Westerberg flat on his back singing “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy I Got Love In My Tummy.”

Even with Tim, the 1985 major label debut that sported enough throwback indie attitude and rough-around-the edges raucousness of its own, the band didn't go the traditional route when it came to showcasing their new material. They certainly didn‘t endear themselves to Sire or MTV with their impishly-conceived video for “Bastards Of Young” -- which consisted of a single sustained shot of a stereo speaker playing the song. It didn’t necessarily bear repeat viewings but it was good for an appreciative guffaw or two for just the idea alone -- and I don’t think the Replacements were looking for heavy rotation, anyway.

With Tim, the band expands upon the versatility and promise of its previous release, Let It Be --exemplified as it was by Westerberg’s running-it-up-the-flagpole songwriting range and its raw, loose-ends execution -- and solidified that power and passion in the newer release with a more cohesive and coherent end result. The fleshing-out of the poignancy of the aching “Sixteen Blue,” the despair that rings true in “Unsatisfied,” the accessible pop-rock elements of “I Will Dare,” the celebratory and gloriously slop-fest rave-up that comprised “Favorite Thing” -- it is not so much that the musicianship, thematic sensibilities and insight found in these songs match-up and find parallel expression in counterpart tracks on Tim.

It's more that Tim spotlights Westerberg’s ever-emergent development as a song craftsman, musically and lyrically, on this production by former Ramone Tommy Erdelyi -- who cleans up the sound without sacrificing too much of the sonic slapdash immediacy of earlier Replacement albums. Westerberg's artistic growth is evident throughout, and so an aptly intentional “why don’t you all f-f-fade away” frustration at the heart of the earlier “Unsatisfied” finds clearer, more articulate expression in Tim’s “Bastards Of Young”:

    God, what a mess, on the ladder of success
    Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung
    Dreams unfulfilled, graduate unskilled
    It beats pickin' cotton and waitin' to be forgotten.

    We are the sons of no one, bastards of young
    We are the sons of no one, bastards of young
    The daughters and the sons.

    The ones who love us best are the ones we'll lay to rest
    And visit their graves on holidays at best
    The ones who love us least are the ones we'll die to please
    If it's any consolation, I don't begin to understand them.

“Time for decisions to be made” contends Westerberg in the equally hard-driving and earnest “Hold My Life,” and though he will salute the band’s survival, hard-living and its place on the indie fringes in songs such as “Left Of The Dial," with the “Weary voice that's laughin', on the radio once / We sounded drunk, never made it on,” he senses that life and career can’t always continue to be conducted in such a cavalier fashion.

Even in the same song, the melodically lilting “Swingin’ Party,” Westerberg may love a party where he can "Pass around the lampshade / There'll be plenty enough room in jail.” But in almost the same breath he admits to a vulnerability and allows for an introspective frame of mind: “If bein' afraid is a crime, we hang side by side / At the swingin' party down the line.”

If not also allow for the downright depressive outlook, as vividly displayed in “Here Comes A Regular,” undergone at a place where everybody may know your name but there’s nothing to cheer about:

    Here comes a regular, call out your name
    Here comes a regular, Am I the only one who feels ashamed

    And even alongside old sad eyes, who says
    "Opportunity knocks once then the door slams shut"
    All I know is that I'm sick of everything that my money can buy
    A fool who wastes his life god rests his guts.

Of course, Westerberg being somewhat of a begrudging romantic at heart, a Replacements album wouldn’t be complete without songs of love, and Tim's note-perfect notions surpass in imagery and poignancy anything recorded before -- love found, as in the charming gem “Kiss Me On The Bus,” and love on the losing end, as in “Little Mascara”: “For the kids you stay together / You nap 'em and you slap 'em in a highchair.” It's certainly not the domestic dream where “All you ever wanted was someone to take care of ya / All you're ever losin' is a little mascara.”

In a lighter vein that also bespeaks the quintessential Replacements album, Westerberg, as in previous Twin Tone postpunk delights like "Seen Your Video" ("...the phony rock 'n' roll"), “Androgynous” (“Now, something meets Boy, and something meets Girl”), and “Color Me Impressed” (at “Everybody at your party / They all look depressed / Everybody dressin' funny…) -- here, too, takes a few amusing personal and social swipes. On Tim’s “Waitress In The Sky,” Westerberg, in apparently unfriendly skies, has a few issues:

    Sanitation expert and a maintenance engineer
    Garbage man, a janitor and you my dear
    A real union flight attendant, my oh my
    You ain't nothin' but a waitress in the sky
    You ain't nothin' but a waitress in the sky...

It’s always refreshing when an artist can grow and hone his craft, but still hold on to a few snotty attitudes and a sense of sarcasm to get through life -- and help us get through it, too. In that regard, Paul Westerberg has that healthy sense of cynicism to complement his affecting sensitivity. And Tim is the all-purpose album of no muss no fuss brilliance from the Replacements. Accept no substitutes.


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