All Shook Down
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Reviewed by Will Harris
Of all the Replacements albums getting the deluxe reissue treatment from Sire/Reprise and Rhino Records this year, none received quite the level of undeserved bashing from ‘Mats fans that the band’s swan song, All Shook Down, was forced to suffer through. After the near-breakthrough album that was 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul, there were more people waiting for a new Replacements record than ever before…but when that record finally emerged, the loudest reactions came from those who were moaning, “This is nothing but a goddamned Paul Westerberg solo album!”
Hey, it’s a fair cop.
Granted, if you track the evolution of the Replacements’ sound, it’s clear that, once founding member Bob Stinson departed the ranks of the band (whether he jumped or was pushed remains a point of contention), the group was always leading up to Paul Westerberg going solo. But given that most reports suggest that there’s only a single song on All Shook Down (“Attitude) which features all four members of the band (Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars, and Slim Dunlap), it’s also pretty clear that the transition probably should’ve occurred immediately after Don’t Tell A Soul. This should not, however, result in the dismissal of All Shook Down. It might only be a Replacements album in name, but it’s still one of the greatest swan songs in alternative rock.
Unfortunately, Sire/Reprise played it way too safe when it came to promoting the record. When pushing singles to radio stations, they went with the most obvious songs, and while “Merry Go Round” and “When It Began” are enjoyably catchy, they’re a poor representation of the album’s contents. All Shook Down is, indeed, a down album…and as long as we’re unabashedly utilizing titles in such a manner, then let it be said that, yes, the majority of the songs can accurately be described as “sadly beautiful.” Lost love is the lyrical order of the day, and as if song titles like “Bent out of Shape,” “Someone Take the Wheel,” and “Torture” didn’t already clarify the lack of cheer involved, this is an album where even a song called “Happy Town” features the lyric, “The plan was to set the world on its ear / And I’m willing to bet you don’t last a year.” Westerberg had always had a way with wordplay, but All Shook Down is arguably the first time his work can be described as poetry, possibly because the music surrounding the lyrics is the least brash it had ever been. (Listening to the demos included on this new, expanded edition of the album reveal that, in fact, it could well have been even less electric than it was.)
Not to diminish the dozen songs which precede it, but the track which best personifies the spirit which pervades All Shook Down is the one which closes it: “The Last.” Were there a video for the song, it could’ve only featured Westerberg sitting alone, smoking a cigarette, lit by spotlight as he sings.
It’s too early to run to Mama
It’s too late to run like hell
I guess I would tell you
‘Cause it don’t work to ask
That this one be your last
‘Cause this one, child, is killing you
And this one’s your last chance
To make this last one really the last
Driven by piano, “The Last” is a song which could never have made it onto any earlier Replacements album, yet it’s one of the most effectively emotional numbers in the band’s catalog. It’s as if Westerberg is singing to himself, offering up a reminder that his efforts to continue in his capacity as a band member were stymieing his creativity….which is ironic, given that All Shook Down actually found him hitting new creative heights. (Also ironic is the fact that Westerberg wrote such a fantastic drinking song as “The Last” while in the midst of getting sober.)
Those who continue to define the sound of the Replacements solely by jagged guitar work and semi-screamed vocals will loathe All Shook Down with every fiber of their being. Those who have matured along with Westerberg, however, will be inspired to stand and applaud the album, which has only gotten better with age.