The Replacements – Hootenanny

Hootenanny (1983)


1. Hootenanny 2. Run It 3. Color Me Impressed 4. Willpower 5. Take Me Down To The Hospital 6. Mr. Whirly 7. Within Your Reach 8. Buck Hill 9. Lovelines 10. You Lose 11. Hayday 12. Treatment Bound


I wasn’t born yet so I’m not exactly the world’s foremost expert on the early 80s Minneapolis punk scene. I don’t know exactly what the local fans were like back then. In college (as in, four years ago), I did used to make out with this girl who liked hometown boys the Hold Steady, but didn’t like it when I played her Lucero and had Joanna Newsome on vinyl and was a bitch, so fuck her. But this being 30 years after the fact, I suppose that’s all beside the point. Basically, I can only assume that the majority of the disciples of the Minneapolis punk scene back then were basically like 90% of adherents to any scene: virulently opposed to anything to come from their chosen messiahs that wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. That’s why most grassroots bands who do make it out of their local bars and go on to make a truly memorable mark on music history have one thing in common: at some point, they bucked their original fan base and gained a new one for doing something different.

Hootenanny isn’t any closer to a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-style reinvention Jim Thorpe is to becoming the next quarterback of the New York Jets (though lord knows they would take him if he were available), but compared to the crowd-pleasing but playing-it-safe Stink, it at least sees the Replacements playfully fucking with their fans. I mean, if opening an album that its fans expected to be a hardcore punk record with an obviously, deliberately, gloriously half-assed country-derived yukfest like “Hootenanny” isn’t some serious grade-A trolling, then I dunno what is. They even switched around their instruments (Chris Mars and Tommy on guitars, Bob on bass, and Paul on drums) to drive the point home straight off the bat that they were gonna pull a little bit of bait and switch with this one.

Not that there isn’t any hardcore on here; “Run It” and “You Lose” are both fast, angry punkers, while “Hayday” rivals anything on Sorry Ma for combining sheer, loud guitar-driven release and energy with strong melodicism and absurdly simple yet resonant lyrics (“Sittin’ at home, I’m so excited/Goin’ to the party though we weren’t invited”). However, most of the highlights are real curveballs… I absolutely love the shit out of “Treatment Bound,” a lo-fi acoustic country/western drunken loser’s therapy yelp-along about “gettin’ nowhere.” “First thing we do when we finally pull up/Is get SHIIIIIIIITfaced DRUUUNNK…” It’s like the hick-fried goofball predecessor of the later “Here Comes A Regular”… after all being an alcoholic redneck is fun before you finally realize you’re drinking your life away, right? Still, it ain’t near as good as “Within Your Reach,” the first of Westerberg’s sensitive singer-songwriter classics. Oh sure, he does his best to disguise his bleeding heart, arranging the song with only an electronic drum machine, synth strings, and a rhythm guitar going through such extreme flanging that it just sounds like someone taking a dump in a tin can underwater. But Paul’s gift for writing the most affecting goddamn love songs you’ll ever hear in your life shines through nonetheless. Plus, with that quirky arrangement, it doesn’t quite sound like any other song the Replacements, or anybody else, ever did.

Still, in terms of the best song of the album, it’s a hell of a toss up between “Reach” and the straight-ahead rocker “Color Me Impressed,” which is rightfully one of pretty much everybody’s favorite Replacements songs. Why is it so great? Could be the blazoning descending riff that’s like a happier inversion of “Takin’ A Ride”; could be the characteristically simple yet terrific lyrics that perfectly sum up every shitshow drinking party you’ve ever been to. Me, I just love that rhythm guitar track – it’s so meaty and propulsive and perfectly crunchy that it turns the tune into one of those songs that doesn’t even need lead guitar.

Now, there are plenty of people who swear by Hootenanny and even prefer it to some of the band’s later, more well known records. But for me, there are a few too many slapdash novelty songs weighing down side one – you know, the bits intended to screw with their fanbase or whatever I was on about before. The sense of humor is appreciated—and in fact I really dig the low key, jivey “Lovelines,” which is predicated on Paul reciting personal ads verbatim—but the boogie “Take Me Down To The Hospital” and the Beatles “tribute” “Mr. Whirly” just strike me as jokes that aren’t nearly as clever as the band thinks they are – and certainly not nearly as catchy. I’m also not sure how I feel about the darker “Willpower,” mostly because I don’t think putting a bunch of echo on everything necessarily equates to “drama.”

So I guess that makes Hootenanny one of those danged transitional album thingamajggers. It’s got one foot still planted in the juvenile punk thing, with musical diversity and even some modicum of maturity beginning to overtake that side of the band. And though neither mode is operating at full capacity at this point, it still makes for a heck of a fun listen.

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