The story of the Replacements, four young men from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the story of a snake eating its own tail – a Sisyphean cycle of self-sabotage. Here was a band always on the precipice of stardom and widespread acclaim, but who at every turn (willingly) made the wrong decisions and bucked every preconceived notion of what it meant to be successful. In an alternate reality (or in a just world), the Replacements are a group as large and impactful as groups like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Vocalist and rhythm guitar player, Paul Westerberg; lead guitar Bob Stinson along with his younger brother and bass player, Tommy Stinson; and drummer Chris Mars, would be household names, synonymous with rock and roll excellence. Sure, the Replacements are progenitors of modern alternative/college rock, and have their own little place in musical history; but, the Replacements deserve more – even if the group never wanted to be.
Nowhere is the Replacements importance more aptly felt than in their 1984 breakthrough record, Let It Be. The record saw the Replacements at a crossroads of sort, the band was distancing themselves from the more immature faux-hardcore of their previous records, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and Hootenanny, towards a more cohesive alternative sound that would echo throughout college rock stations across the country. The record would also be their last on independent record label Twin/Tone before they made the transition to major label Sire Records.
The change in sound also resulted in a change in lyrical content, with more heart-on-sleeve lyrics being penned and sung by enigmatic frontman Paul Westerberg. Westerberg seemed to perfectly encapsulate that feeling of transition and of the unknown in the coming-of-age style lyrics and songs that permeate Let It Be. Themes of rejection, self-consciousness, immaturity, and sexual ambiguity litter the album, painting a poignant portrait of the band and its fans. Tracks like “Androgynous” and “Sixteen Blue” are integral parts and serve as an emotinal crux for the album. The former being a sparse piano-ballad cooly-crooned by Westerberg, telling the story of Dick and Jane – two youths exploring what gender means and its various pitfalls. The latter expresses the discontent and confusion that accompanies teenage life – not knowing who you are, what your sexuality is, and what comes next…
This isn’t to say that Let It Be is a wholly self-serious record. Hard-hitting punk tracks that originally brought the Replacements into the musical zeitgeist are still prevalent here. Tracks like “Gary’s Got a Boner” and “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” are fast and loud punk classics that see the band masterfully weaving the serious lyricism with clashing guitars, a chugging bass, and unflinching drum beats. The track listing finds the Replacements in constant conflict with one another, attempting to balance their beginnings with their future, their immaturity with growth, the want to succeed with the need to self-destruct.
Let It Be is a timeless record that may not be for everyone, but for those who it is for, it is a certified classic. It masterfully encapsulates the feeling of youth, of confusion, of love, etc. It is a record for the outcasts, made by outcasts. Let It Be is in a way a perfect picture of the modern American Dream; why join in on the rat race and conform to what others want? Do what you want, sound how you want to sound, be who you are. The world is going to hell in a bucket and the Replacements are takin’ a ride.