How many albums have received dozens of five star reviews, established a band’s signature sound and influenced a generation of musicians whilst remaining relatively unknown to the wider public? Let It Be, the third and career shaping record for Minneapolis post-punk quartet The Replacements is one of those classic albums that seems to have passed the majority of music lovers by.
With a reputation for rambunctious sets filled with rollocking hardcore punk and onstage antics (including cross dressing and covering cheesy pop tunes), they gained a large collection of local and loyal fans who longed for nights of rock’n’roll fun. Lead singer and songwriter Paul Westerberg had a larger vision for the band however. Sick of playing only short and fast punk numbers he described as ‘fake hardcore’, Westerberg began arranging more challenging and heartfelt songs that would go on to shape the sound of 80s and 90s alternative rock.
Let It Be begins with a song that hardcore fans of the band’s hard-as-nails reputation found as a bit of a shock. Jaunty number I Will Dare sees the band embrace a more melodic side in which REM legend Peter Buck lends his jangly guitar talents and a little ukelele ditty. A bold move to start the album but the mosh loving audience were well entertained, Let It Be features some of the band’s most enjoyably gritty moments.
The pop-punk of Favourite Thing is a notable example of stellar newly crafted tunes Westerberg had sought to create blending catchy melodies with a quick tempo and howling guitars whilst the amusingly titled Gary’s Got A Boner and Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out made it clear the band hadn’t quite ditched their comical ‘fake hardcore’ roots. In fact the latter was written for bass player Tommy Stinson whilst he had his tonsils removed and with supportive lyrics such as “Strap him down, were out of gas, stop your bawling you little brat”, Westerberg’s lyrical talent was in clear view.
Probably the most surprising and vital parts of Let It Be however were its delicate and thoughtful moments that were previously unseen on Replacements’ records. Androgynous sees Westerberg croon in support of the transexual and cross dressing community whilst Unsatisfied hears him howl “Look me in the eyes and tell me, I’m satisfied” as he finds himself disillusioned with a life he thought he wanted.
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Perhaps the most hard hitting moment is the ballad-esque Sixteen Blue, one of the most accurate and thoughtful portrayals of the emotional grief and confusion that everyone goes through as a teenager. Westerberg’s lyrical hand of support teamed with guitarist Bobby Stinson’s mesmerising guitar solo is simply one of the most beautiful and seminal moments in post punk music.
As final song Answering Machine closes the album with echoing guitars and Westerberg’s growling vocals, the thing that makes Let It Be such an immaculate album is made clear. Whilst each fantastic, diverse and ultimately different song goes by, it flows perfectly from one song to the next, creating a satisfying and enjoyable album that fans can, and likely will, relive again and again. And to do this whilst including Kiss cover Black Diamond, a largely instrumental Seen Your Video and a song about boners? Well thats pretty unique.
The fact that Let It Be or any other of The Replacements’ brilliant records haven’t seen the critical success its contemporaries (REM, Sonic Youth) and adorers (Nirvana, Green Day) have makes it feel like a special kind of secret for those who have been given the pleasure to discover it. When this reviewer picked the album up from a bargain bin aged sixteen, he found out the secret was a gift worth sharing with everyone, an album slightly lost in time but forever adored.