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Reviewed by Jason Thompson
But don’t take this as bitterness, please. The Replacements have always deserved more than they initially got, so even if their due comes a little late, it’s still more than welcome. And here we have their second full-length release – and my personal favorite in the band’s entire catalogue – Hootenanny. It’s an album that finds the band rushing out of the sweat-stained, beer-soaked basement thrash of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and stopgap EP Stink and running headlong into what can seriously be called successful experimentalism. This was the album where the ‘Mats did it all, offering up a blueprint of what they would continue to do throughout the rest of their career, if not exactly in such broad, exciting strokes.
The early, wild thrash is still in full swing on cuts like “Run It,” the hilariously speed-fueled “Take Me Down to the Hospital,” and “Hayday.” These are all really good tunes, but it’s the rest of the album that really gets the shit in gear. “Color Me Impressed” remains the band’s best overall amped-up pop tune, “Buck Hill” is a great surf instrumental wannabe, and “Lovelines” is still too damned funny. And then, of course, there’s the harrowing “Willpower” and the solo Paul Westerberg number “Within Your Reach” – which wasn’t well received by the rest of the band, but still stands out as a stellar early example of Westerberg’s sensitive side before he became a little too fond of clichés a few years down the line. There’s also the Beatles fuckup mastertrash “Mr. Whirly,” the slopped-up title track featuring all the band members swapping instruments, and the close to the bone piss-off attitude fueling closer “Treatment Bound.” Back then, the ‘Mats were doing whatever the hell they wanted and having more fun than anyone else was allowing their listeners to hear on vinyl.
Of course, the big kudos would come with the next album, Let It Be, that had its own great share of classic cuts and humorous bits, but it was already sharply focused here on Hootenanny. Whereas the first two of the band’s releases were pretty much wild and wooly DIY attack tracks (save some items like “Johnny’s Gonna Die” off the debut), Hootenanny claimed all the ‘Mats sacred turf instantly and perfectly. This is the sound of a band knocking on the door of success, with everything possible laid out before it. Of course, other Minneapolis acts such as Prince and Husker Du were more successful at the time and in the long run, but don’t think for a second that the Replacements weren’t just as great or important. Like Big Star and the Velvet Underground before them, they were unfortunately just caught in this odd bubble where the big time eluded them. Some of this was due to the band’s own attitude toward fame and how to achieve, but more than that it was down to a clueless public majority who would have rather listened to shitty one-hit wonder acts and bands propelled by synth drums and Fairlights.
But if you’re reading this, you already know that stuff. So how about the bonus cuts here, then? Well, first up is the raucous “Lookin’ for Ya,” the music of which would be re-recorded at a slower pace and used as the backing track for “Lovelines.” It was released as part of a local radio station’s compilation ad sponsored by Budweiser and features the hilarious sendoff “Keep your riches, gimme a Budweiser!” shouted by Westerberg at the end. The outtakes “Junior’s Got a Gun” and “Ain’t No Crime” sound like they’d be right at home on the debut, and indeed “Johnny Fast” is “Johnny’s Gonna Die” at a faster pace and sounds just as shit hot as the official version. Then there are alternate takes for both “Treatment Bound” and “Lovelines,” the latter using mostly different personal ads read by Westerberg for the lyrics. The album versions of both of these are definitely better, but as works in progress, they’re fun to hear. Finally, there’s the solo home demo of Paul’s “Bad Worker,” featuring the great line “Wanna keep your job, better start kissin’ somebody’s ass.” Hearing Westerberg at such a young age already have a firm grasp on lyric writing is nothing short of pretty damn fucking cool, let’s just put it that way.
So, go buy this again even if you already have it. If you don’t have it, buy it for the first time and own one of the most important rock albums of the 1980s. The ‘Mats influenced countless other groups and artists with their indie label work, and it’s here that you can hear them not yet going for broke, but definitely self-assured and cocky as hell making some killer music. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore – but then again, how exactly do you repeat perfection? Exactly.