The Replacements – Let It Be

Let It Be (1984)


1. I Will Dare 2. Favorite Thing 3. We’re Comin’ Out 4. Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out 5. Androgynous 6. Black Diamond 7. Unsatisfied 8. Seen Your Video 9. Gary’s Got A Boner 10. Sixteen Blue 11. Answering Machine


You know, I first got Let It Be when I was 15 or 16 and listened to it once or twice deciding I didn’t really get it and set it aside for a few years. This seems totally baffling to me now, but it’s true. It actually wasn’t my first Replacements album—Pleased To Meet Me was, and I liked that one right off the bat—but it still didn’t do much for me. And actually, up until surprisingly recently, it still didn’t. I didn’t get why “Answering Machine” didn’t have a rhythm section, or why there were songs called “Gary’s Got A Boner” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out,” or why there was a fuckin’ KISS cover on it. Well, I still don’t totally get that last one, but as for everything else, man, it’s hard to explain. I was the album’s prime target demographic, wasn’t I? A sad, lonely 16-year old? Not that I was at the emotional crisis level of some of the characters Paul sings about here, but you know, normal teenage stuff – no girlfriend, sitting in my room watching ESPN News and brooding all night, the works. So why in the hell couldn’t I connect with one of the greatest teenage alienation ever made until I was almost done with college? And besides, aren’t you supposed to grow out of punk rock, not grow into it? What was the deal? Is it possible, that Let It Be was a little too close to the bone at the time and I just need some separation from that emotional state to truly appreciate how profound it is? Or did I just not bother listening to the lyrics? My money’s on the latter.  I was a dumb little shit when I was 16. Weren’t we all.

For the sake of honestly, I have actually loved the jangly “I Will Dare,” the piano jazzy “Androgynous,” and the angst-flushed, dramatic “Unsatisfied” more than life itself since more or less the first time I heard them. So I guess my coming around on Let It Be was about my newfound appreciation of, you know, the other songs. Like the goodtime rockin’ funness of “Favorite Thing” and the angry punkery genetically spliced with a desolate piano bridge that is “We’re Comin’ Out.” But before I get to how good the great majority of this album is—how incredibly, painfully fucking good it is—I feel I must draw up the few caveats that prevent me from extolling it as one of the greatest albums in the history of rock ‘n roll, as a significant number of people do. And as I alluded to, you can probably guess what those are just by looking at the song titles. It seems so hacky and obvious to disparage those songs for being “immature” and “out of place” and what not, especially from the likes of the freaking Replacements, for whom a song called “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” would have only been like the fifth dumbest song on Stink. Besides, I actually think “Gary’s Got A Boner” is catchy and a total hoot. And yet, there’s one thing called “eclecticism” and an entirely different thing called “tone” and “internal consistency” and “not putting a fucking KISS cover on your album” (I’m sorry, I know people who grew up in the 70s and 80s often came to rock music through KISS and thus have a positive association with them, but to me, “Black Diamond” is just a dumb hard rock song that doesn’t belong on an album of this caliber. There’s a perfectly rocking cover of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” as a bonus track on the album reissue that would have worked much better in that slot, in my opinion). Just like you wouldn’t want Daniel Day-Lewis and his cabinet to suddenly break into a rousing rendition of “Singing In The Rain” in the middle of Lincoln, I don’t really see the value in having the three songs I’ve just mentioned break up the flow of a sobering record like Let It Be… they just come across as a forced nod to the band’s past work that doesn’t fit at all with what they were doing in the present. The Beatles wouldn’t put “From Me To You” on Sgt. Pepper now, would they?

But good goddamned holy mother of fuck do the rest of these songs make up for the lapse in judgment. You know the glorious little confection “I Will Dare,” don’t ya? No? Well then what in the hell is wrong with you? Maybe a bit mannered for “they sold out after Stink!” type fans, but a pretty much perfectly constructed alt-rock gem for everyone else. To me, it doesn’t really hit its stride until the instrumental break, which begins with a curious collection of high, twiddly trills played by none other than R.E.M.’s Peter Buck; a glory boy like Slash would probably rather die than call it a “guitar solo,” but I think it’s kind of brilliant. Then the guitar cedes the spotlight to a rudimentary mandolin line played by Paul himself (maybe this is where Buck got the idea for “Losing My Religion”?). The mando sticks around in the background as Paul sneers “How smart are you?” over the outro like it’s a fucking murder accusation.

But after all that, they’re still just getting warmed up! Now, I’ve already talked about how Paul can write lyrics and sing in way that hits on the depth of my emotional core harder than the last three minutes of a rerun of Scrubs when a sad song by the Fray plays and I learn another life lesson like “cancer is bad.” He proves himself in that regard here with the heart-wrenching “Unsatisfied,” which, if it isn’t his greatest song ever, then it’s certainly his most economical in that, like “Customer” before it, it manages to say everything that one could possibly imagine being said about teenage (or twenty-something… or sixty-something) loneliness and pain and regret in no more than eleven words. But to discount Bob Stinson’s titanic contributions to Let It Be would be a bigger sin than buttfucking Jesus himself. His finest moment is the near-instrumental “Seen Your Video,” in which he communicates just as much emotion and pathos through his guitar work, his lead line transitioning seamlessly from bubbly and positive to agonized, angst-filled cries of passion. And then when Paul and Bob combine forces on “Sixteen Blue,” it’s a thing of beauty. If you aren’t moved by Paul’s lyrics and heartstring-melting chord changes, you probably haven’t turned sixteen yet, but Bob threatens to outdo him with his pitch perfect solo near the end. Any appreciation of its brilliance must inevitably be tinged with sadness, considering it’s more or less the last consequential studio contribution of he’d ever make to the Replacements’ catalog. He’d still be around, nominally, for the following year’s Tim, but he would have already checked out by then, and would be officially out of the band soon after.

And yeah, the penultimate song does count as Bob’s last stand, cause “Answering Machine” is all Paul – and it’s genius. Now, I’m not exactly an objective voice on the topic of this song, having battled through a long distance relationship for three and a half years before it finally became an in-person relationship a little more than three months ago, and accordingly the lyrics speak to me more acutely than I’d care for them to (“How do you say ‘good night’ to an answering machine?… How do you say ‘I miss you’ to an answering machine?… How do you say ‘I’m lonely’ to an answering machine?”). But even if you can’t quite relate to the lyrical topic (especially since, you know, there’s no such thing as an answering machine any more), I defy anyone to not be moved by Paul’s devastating vocal performance, a perfect aural representation of a face streaming with tears, the narrator’s loneliness painfully emphasized by having no accompaniment but his own overdriven rhythm guitar and the cold mechanical braying of an answering machine itself.

It’s even better than that one song about a boner!

And that album by the Beatles!

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