32 Years Ago: The Replacements Release the Perfect Mess, ‘Hootenanny’
It's anniversary week at Diffuser, or at least in my column inches. On Monday, April 27 we revisited Nine Inch Nails' With Teeth on its 10th anniversary, and two days later the 'Mats sophomore effort turns thirty-something.
That's the beauty of being a fan of alternative and independent music -- the diversity. Moving from the industrial precision of Trent Reznor to the beautiful, drunken sloppiness of the Replacements is perfectly natural; in fact, it's the soundtrack to a lot of our lives.
Genre mixing was natural to the 'Mats, too. Hootenanny, the sophomore album that they recorded mostly in "a warehouse in some godawful suburb north of Mpls," captures the young band in the thrall of influences ranging from punk to classic rock to the Beatles. "Mr. Whirly" is a raucous send up of both "Strawberry Fields" and "Oh! Darling," all in a respectably punk sub-two minutes.
But were they really having a laugh at the Fab Four's expense? By the end of the '80s, Paul Westerberg had established himself as college radio's Lennon/McCartney, capable of writing songs so fragile that they'd shatter if you looked at them wrong and rockers that you couldn't punch a hole in if you had to.
They may have been thumbing their noses at the Beatles, but more likely is that this album captures both the songwriter and the band at a vulnerable moment. Concealing one's insecurities beneath a sarcastic exterior is a well-established strategy for deflecting criticism, after all, and the 'Mats were still finding their footing. Producer Paul Stark was quoted in Our Band Could Be Your Life as saying that the album "was a complete joke from their point of view — they did not care what they delivered."
I don't buy that.
Cuts like "Within Your Reach" are as good as anything in the band's catalog. Cameron Crowe must agree: Six years after the record's release, the director included the song in the John Cusack classic, Say Anything. The band still includes it in their live set, too -- hardly the act of a bunch of guys who didn't care what they delivered.
That softer sound was a bit of a conundrum for fans of the 'Mats debut album, Sorry Ma Forgot to Take Out the Trash. That record was a tasty slice of hardcore, so synthesizers and lovelorn lyrics presented a problem: Do I hate it for the mellow "Within Your Reach" or love it for the thrashy "You Lose"?
This is perhaps the greatest gift that the Replacements bestowed upon the alternative scene: You didn't have to choose. It was okay to like synthesizers and thrashing guitars, gentle songs and mosh pit-inducing punk. Thirty-two years later it's okay to celebrate Trent Reznor and Paul Westerberg side by side -- how about that?
The record sold 38,000 vinyl copies, the last 1,000 pressed in the late '80s "to run out the jackets," according to Twin/Tone's website. That makes original copies highly collectible, often trading for over $100. (Speaking of jackets, the album's cover is an homage to an early '60s folk music compilation entitled The Original Hootenanny.)
Critical reception was solid, with Village Voice critic Robert Christgau scoring the album a solid B+. "If the rock and roll spirit is your bottom line, you'll love 'em," he said. "But because they play it so loose they do gravitate toward sloppy noise, which means that too often they're more conceptual than a loose, freewheeling rock and roll band ought to be."
Up next was 1984's Let It Be, the band's masterpiece. From there it was a glorious downhill slide into more introspective songs from Westerberg and increasingly drunken, frustrated behavior from guitarist Bob Stinson. Two years later Stinson was fired, and in '91 the band called it a day.
Westerberg and the band's other Stinson, bassist Tommy, reunited in 2012 and have been out on the road as the Replacements ever since. Diffuser's Chris Kissel caught them a few months ago in New York City, where they dusted off Hootenanny favorite "Color Me Impressed":
In 1983, Hootenanny may have been a joke to Westerberg and company, but in 2015, we think it's a perfect mess ... and we love it.