The Replacements – All Shook Down

All Shook Down (1990)

B 

1. Merry Go Round 2. One Wink At A Time 3. Nobody 4. Bent Out Of Shape 5. Sadly Beautiful 6. Someone Take The Wheel 7. When It Began 8. All Shook Down 9. Attitude 10. Happy Town 11. Torture 12. My Little Problem 13. The Last

 

S’not really the Replacements, but at least it’s more palatable than the last one, all things considered. And that “not really the Replacements” business is a statement of fact, not a hipsterly rendering of judgment, since this was actually supposed to be Paul’s solo debut LP, but Sire slapped the band name on it against his wishes to boost sales. It was fruitless pursuit on the record company’s part, of course, since, at least back then, hoping the use of the name “the Replacements” would translate into record sales was akin to McDonald’s hoping changing the name of the Big N’ Tasty would make it any less radioactive. To be fair, the rest of the band does appear on the album to varying degrees, but only all together on one track (“Attitude”). Indeed, by the time All Shook Down came out, it was pretty obvious the end was nigh. Chris Mars barely played on the record and didn’t even stick around long enough for the supporting tour, and has since settled into a successful career as a visual artist. Yeesh, who’da thunk a friggin’ drummer would have any artistic talent at all? (Only kidding. Sorta).

It’s not like Paul hired a bunch of hacks to back him up – players of some repute, including the X-Pensive Winos’ Charley Drayton, the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, pop up throughout. And other than a couple of weirdly out of tune guitar solos, the playing is wonderfully professional yet loose, and is captured perfectly by producer Scott Litt, best known for his work with R.E.M., who transports the listener to a wondrous world of warm, enveloping acoustic guitar tones and amazingly live sounding drums. Basically, the album is an incredibly organic listening experience, more or less the polar opposite of the overcooked Don’t Tell A Soul.

Yup, you sure can’t blame the production for All Shook Down’s inferiority compared to golden era Placemats this time around – you can only blame Paul. That’s sounds harsh, cause there honestly aren’t any real stinkers here, especially compared those horrific couple of turds on the last album. But at least on that one, he was trying new and unusual shit out, even it didn’t work most of time… here, he never once leaves his comfort zone, defined here as strumming acoustic guitar and intoning in that new low, mumbly voice of his. Most of the arrangements are stock strum-and-twiddle deals, while the tempos rarely stray from the same medium range. “My Little Problem” gets the adrenaline pumping nicely near the end via the same sort of basic bar band rock style the Mats had already perfected some years previously, and the playful “Attitude” is a hell of a lot of fun and is the most melodically memorable tune here, but outside of that, Paul and his accompanists sound a tad old and tired. At times, this works to their advantage, specifically on the ballads – the aptly named “Sadly Beautiful,” featuring John Cale on viola, and the near-comatose title track, buoyed by a haunting recorder line (that is, if it’s possible to describe a recorder line as “haunting” without sounding like a complete tool) are clear highlights. I feel like it would have been interesting if the world-weary, beaten-down-by-the-music-biz tone set by these two songs were explored further. It would have been antithetical to the rough ‘n ready sound and spirit we know and love the Replacements for, but it’s avenue they clearly had the ability to mine from successfully (supposing “Skyway” hadn’t tipped you off already).

Instead, the majority of this record sees Paul aiming for the middle of the road and hitting it square on, with the results just pulled over the top by strong production and the songwriter’s continued ability to turn a phrase (“When you open that bottle of wine/You open a can of worms every time”). And honestly, there are some genuinely strong moments here – “Merry Go Round” has some nice guitar crunch, the shorty “Torture” has an intriguing, twiddly lead guitar line, and the toe-tapper “One Wink At A Time,” with its understated sax part, is just a really good song. But just three years earlier, these are the kinds of songs Paul could write in his sleep before waking up the next morning, saying “fuck that,” and writing “Alex Chilton.” An easily digestible, mostly satisfying, but not quite thrilling ending.

I could totally make a blowjob joke with that last line, but I won’t.



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