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Main Category: Punk/Grunge
Also applicable: Pop Rock
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
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Year Of Release: 1981
Overall rating =

Well, at least the guitar man can play. Surely it's not true, though, that hardcore and melody are hard[core]ly compatible?


Track listing: 1) Takin' A Ride; 2) Careless; 3) Customer; 4) Hangin' Downtown; 5) Kick Your Door Down; 6) Otto; 7) I Bought A Headache; 8) Rattlesnake; 9) I Hate Music; 10) Johnny's Gonna Die; 11) Shiftless When Idle; 12) More Cigarettes; 13) Don't Ask Why; 14) Somethin' To Du; 15) I'm In Trouble; 16) Love You Till Friday; 17) Shutup; 18) Raised In The City.

It's probably the first quintessentially "hardcore punk" album I'm reviewing in my life, making it all the more regrettable that it isn't really "quintessential" hardcore: not only do the Replacements lower the plank enough to let a fuckin' ballad escape the genre confinements, their lead guitarist betrays classic rock fanaticism, actually daring to play his guitar rather than have it adopted by a vacuum cleaner. But then again, there's this unbroken rule that for every representative of genre so-and-so one can find a truer representative of genre so-and-so, meaning that for some people even the Misfits won't be able to satisfy their most treasured ideals. So, for the moment, let's assume that this is hardcore and proceed from there.

Of course, we won't be able to proceed anywhere far unless I first declare what everybody already knows: I don't like hardcore. And I mean I really don't like hardcore for serious ideological reasons. Being a big rock'n'roll fan, I sure like me music fast and buttkicking. But I also like me my music melodic and memorable - and in Rock Paradise, they're always ready to meet my needs and have bands like Motorhead, or AC/DC, or the Ramones provide the necessary kind of musical healing. Hardcore, by definition, places most emphasis on speed and aggression, leaving melody somewhere behind. It's not that hardcore and melody aren't compatible - actually, on Sorry Ma the Replacements offer some evidence for the contrary that is quite convincing - but they aren't necessarily compatible, and it pretty much seems like for most hardcore fans the factor of melody doesn't seem to matter at all.

It's certainly understandable, but understanding doesn't mean agreeing. Much of hardcore's appeal has to deal with its immediateness. Hardcore gets even closer to you, the average teenage listener, than classic "old-school" punk a la Clash, because it's less ambitious and more pissed-off, just like you probably are yourself. But outside of hardcore's "immediate" circle, I see very little use for it. Hardcore hangs on the fringes of music, and has a very hard time so as not to drop off it entirely. Yeah, consider me a scruffy bulgy whiny close-minded fuck if you wish, but fringes are fringes - I can worship the Ramones, praise the Stooges, and tolerate the Clash, but this here Replacements debut kinda stinks.

That said, if it stunk from head to tail, I'd give it a 3. Yet, according to my brain standards and heart itchings, it certainly deserves much more than that. Here's why. First, like I said, this is not exactly the most "authentic" hardcore punk ever put on record. In fact, I've heard many of the band's admirers, probably those who shun the term 'hardcore' much like others shun the term 'heavy metal' in reference to their favs like Led Zeppelin or even Black Sabbath, refer to it as just a "rock and roll" album. And that's true, it is rock and roll, not just because all of "hardcore" is "rock and roll" by definition, but also because the band's rhythm section as well as the band's lead guitarist often sound like a normal Seventies' rock'n'roll band - only when listened to at 78rpm. Bob Stinson, in particular, probably plays more Chuck Berry-style licks on here than Chuck played himself on all his records combined. The only person with a completely hardcore attitude on here is Paul Westerberg himself, who never even tries to sing, not even on that one lonesome ballad. (Then again, who knows, maybe it's all for the better!).

Second, when they do get a good rock'n'roll groove going on, there's no stopping the fun (metaphorically speaking, of course - few songs on here go over two minutes). 'Otto', for instance, with its silly 'everybody go Otto-Otto!' refrain, almost sounds like one of those pre-Sixties novel tunes announcing the arrival of a new dance craze, only revved up to hysterical level - and still giving Stinson enough room to play one of the album's best riffs. (Utilizing a guitar tone that does seem to come straight out of the days long gone by; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Alvin Lee of Ten Years After might have been sort of an indirect influence on the guy). From a not-so-antiquated epoch comes 'Kick Your Door Down', one teensy bit slower than its immediate neighbours and actually gaining in power and conviction rather than losing. Hear that? Same goes for 'Shiftless When Idle', a song that yearns for a better arrangement but is quite impressive even as bare-bones as it is: a solid pop-rocker if there ever was one. 'I ain't got no idols, I ain't got no taste' - neither the first nor the second statement are exactly true, but nice for us to know all the same.

Alas, much more often a particular song might start out promisingly and end in disappointment. The playful intro to 'Somethin' To Du' dissolves into generic chainsaw buzz about three seconds into the song. 'I Hate Music', with its famous declaration ('I hate music, it's got too many notes') that proves the Replacements actually do have a sense of humour, even if you're supposed to look for it, is a wee bit more memorable, but again, the "body" of the song hardly lives up to the first ten seconds when the band seems to be searching for the right melody rather than already having found it. In both of these cases, however, as well as in multiple others, I know what I'm really looking forward to: Stinson's solos. Short, crisp, breathtaking outbursts of rock'n'roll energy, they speak to me in a language far closer to my heart than that of Westerberg's lyrics. And that's only natural - great rock'n'roll guitar should be able to break through to anybody, regardless of age, whereas 'I gotta hide, I gotta run, try suicide, well that ain't no fun' can only break through to one certain age- and status-confined group of people. Although in that respect that's some darn fine lyricism.

That's darn fine lyricism on the already mentioned lonesome ballad as well - 'Johnny's Gonna Die', apparently dedicated to punk hero Johnny Thunders and his "friends" ('one sure way Johnny you can leave your mark' - is that a particularly disturbing wordgame or what?). The song itself offers easily the finest melody on the album, not vocal, of course (like I said, Westerberg never really sings, so "vocal melody" is somewhat an oxymoron here), but expressed in Stinson's clever control of his instrument, which he can actually use in subtle minimalistic purposes just as skilfully as he does in full-throttle aggressive purposes. And again, the most beautiful thing here is the guitar solo, two-part this time, with a 'softer' part and a 'harder' part that unexpectedly cuts across and seems "spiritually lifted" from some classic period MC5 album.

Still, way too many of the songs can't be redeemed by anything at all. Totally generic hardcore crap like 'Rattlesnake', for instance. Or mindless sequences of two-minute rhythmic noise like 'Love You Till Friday'. Or boring (at one minute!) attempts to outclash The Clash with anthemic declarations like 'Careless'. I'm not even complaining about the lack of diversity, because it's useless to complain about the lack of diversity on an album one look at the sleeve of which says it all; but an unvoiced complaint is still a complaint. I'm certainly not complaining about worthless production values, because, for one thing, punk rock isn't exactly supposed to have Phil Spector values (unless you're in the Ramones, of course), for another thing, as long as I can hear more of that guitar and less of that vocal racket, count me happy. Yep, whaddaya know? It's hard to make hardcore sound good. 'Otto' and 'I Hate Music' is as good as it gets. And the only song where it gets better isn't hardcore.


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