Monday, July 25, 2005

R, II

Refused- Shape Of Punk To Come

Refused, the rock group, put out an okay but totally unremarkable EP that I reviewed probably seven or eight years ago for a fanzine- a slice above hardcore by numbers, but a thin slice at best.

Refused the FUCKIN’ FIERY INSURGENTS put out an LP that all the kids love, thought was the bee’s knees, instant classic, blah blah blah.

If you wanna draw more attention to your band, there’s no better way than to include all sorts of vaguely-worded quasi-political bluster in yr. album artwork. The kids will all pretend that they understand, or will realize that there is in fact nothing to understand but will roll with the joke/rhetoric anyway. You pick. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an amazingly didactic album title that makes reference to jazz- another instance of the kids either pretending or rolling with it, because aside from Rich Ladew, which hardcore kids REALLY get jazz? The same tricks, in other words, that catapulted joke-of-the-scene Ulysses to the seminal critical success that was Nation of Ulysses. Some polemic, a little swagger and a straight face and you’re a classic revolutionary, even if you are completely full of shit.

I hate to harp on the silliness of the band’s alleged insurgency, but I kinda feel like I have to in any sort of critical discourse, if only because they draw so much attention to it themselves, you know? Having said that, though, they’ve totally got stones the size of Gibraltar for naming their record as they did, and songwise, they more or less get away with it- a few cuts too many, maybe, but points for ambition and for trying new stuff (the techno samples, and yes, the jazz ‘session,’ even though I don’t really understand it, either). There are moments, songs where the blistering ‘core transcends the stuffy borders of genre and reaches great heights that I’m gonna call pop, albeit of the heavy variety. Songs that induce finger pointin’ like your car was a CB’s matinee, shouting along as the tunes sustain themselves for far longer than anything on the Lost & Found catalogue. Another case of the package getting tangled up in the analysis, but it was said package that got all the kids thinking ‘modern day classic,’ so we’ll call it even and see what they all think in five years when they’re married and shit.

Replacements- Let It Be

When I was starting to get into music, I read as much as I could and then backtracked. ‘Let It Be’ was an album that was always, always namechecked by Spin and Rolling Stone in their ‘best of _________’ lists, so I went out and found it.

I love ‘Let It Be,’ think that it’s hilarious and poignant, but for me the order’s always been all wrong. Back in the day, right, the critics were drawn to the album because the initial Replacements slabs were these blasts of beer-fueled snottiness, and ‘Let It Be’ was a monument to the band growing up, at least slightly. Sure, there were still a bunch of bratty, punk-y joke songs- ‘Gary’s Got A Boner’ and ‘Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out,’ f’r example- but there was also some maturity poking through the pile of cans in the corner of the practice space. ‘Unsatisfied’ instantly became an anthem, what with its twelve-string intro and flat-out yearning, Westerberg’s vocals sounding corroded and weary from living the life for years and years and having little to show for it. ‘Androgynous’ taught everyone a new vocab word in its surprisingly gentle look at love.

I caught it from the other side. By the time the Replacements were on my radar, they had already been anointed the new saviors of rock (due at least in part to the success of ‘Let It Be’) and had been given tons and tons of critical respect. They followed ‘Let It Be’ with ‘Tim’, a hell of a record, and there, in my estimation, things started to go downhill. Attribute it to what you will, member changes or corporate pressure or whatever. The Replacements that were readily available to me as a teenager in rural New Hampshire were a band that didn’t sound terribly revolutionary or different. They had some great songs later in their career, don’t get me wrong- there’s no disputing the pop majesty of ‘Alex Chilton’- but things got slicker and slicker, to the point where ‘I’ll Be You’, which I remember seeing on MTV, didn’t sound a whole hell of a lot like the Replacements any more. Jesus, I found their stuff in the cutout bin for a reason. Even as a seventeen-year-old kid, I could smell the bullshit. The slick, poppy stuff on ‘120 Minutes’, I reasoned, was not the reason why the critics fawned over the band- it was the rough stuff, the raw bleeders mixed with the maturity, not the maturity all scrubbed and dressed up in a nice suit for a meeting with the board members.

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