The Replacements, Let It Be

Karen Schoemer

By Karen Schoemer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Let It Be

The Replacements
A classic of pre-flannel angst

As protest songs go, "Seen Your Video" isn't exactly "The Times They Are A-Changin.'" A bass line pummels, a guitar melody bops along like the Clash on bubblegum and three-quarters of the way through, the raspy voice of Paul Westerberg chimes in, ranting about a new phenomenon called MTV and the videogenic pioneers upon whose cheekbones the network was built. "Seen your video," he sneers. "Your phony rock and roll/ We don't want to know." Maybe it was a soft target, but circa 1984, this from-the-gut swipe at the forces of artistic corruption felt like one of the best rebellions going. Let It Be, along with R.E.M.'s Murmur, the Pixies 'Surfer Rosa and Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, was a cornerstone of alternative rock, its raw nerves and unrepentant sloppiness challenging the corporate gloss of '80s megastars like Madonna and Michael Jackson. It was also the moment when punk rock came into its own as a songwriter's forum. Westerberg could thrash like the best of them in mindless toss-offs like "Gary's Got a Boner," but when he quieted down and let his vulnerabilities show, he was a minimalist Springsteen, laying emotions bare in a few simply turned phrases. "Sixteen Blue" (a nod to the band's teenaged bassist Tommy Stinson) lends unexpected dignity to adolescent angst: "You're lookin 'funny/ You ain't laughing, are you?" "Unsatisfied" turns the Rolling Stones 'epochal declaration of bravado into a cry of futility; "I Will Dare" is existential bitterness posing as a date song. The album's title was a crass swipe at the Beatles, but it turned out to be awfully prescient — for the malcontents who populated the '80s underground, Let It Be was as classic as rock & roll could be.