Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Replacements -- "I'll Be You" (1989)

Coming late to the dinner table again, like the Dictators, I didn't seriously listen to the Replacements until Don't Tell A Soul, which turned out to be the next to last for the band. Warner Brothers mailed me the CD since those were the days I was still at Radio City Music Hall and my connections with the record biz were at their height.

I paid attention to this record for two reasons: I saw R.E.M.'s engineer and co-producer Scott Litt produced this album, and I read about singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg's affection for Elton John. The band was already a longtime critics' favorite and there was a mystique with Westerberg ever since they named the high school after him in the dark comedy film "Heathers."

I listened to this album straight through many times because while the music could have easily matched the Rolling Stones at their swaggering Exile On Main Street best, the lyrics were touching, emotional, and self-deprecating. As I would continue discovering from his later solo albums, Westerberg was a master of the cutting phrase, eminently more quotable than most garage-influenced rock bands.

When the Replacement used this album as their bid for more commercial success, they chose a producer who balanced the previous "dirt" with far better recording techniques. Litt tamed Westerberg's vocal wildness while positioning the guitars distinctly and warming them up.

"I'll Be You" could rival any Jagger/Richards collaboration. Litt cleverly moves the crunchy guitar chords into their own ear space, placing them on the downbeat between words, perfectly positioned for air guitar. You're definitely not used to hearing power chords on that beat, but it works as a musical underline to me. If you love great sounding guitars, with a little Ian McLagen-ish boogie piano, this is definitely your song.

But the words... Westerberg never fails to make you think with his clever phrasing. The Replacements were one of the ultimate 80's cult bands, never selling more than those kinds of numbers. Don't Tell A Soul never quite pushed them over the top, despite the relative success of "I'll Be You." There was a weariness to these lyrics, "running their last race," yet a defiance because if it was "just a game," they were "bleedin' but not cut."

If it's a temporary lull
why'm I bored right outta my skull?
Man, I'm dressin' sharp an' feelin' dull.

Lonely, I guess that's where I'm from
If I was from Canada
then I'd best be called lonesome.

And if it's just a game
Then I'll break down just in case
Hurry up, we're runnin' in our last race.

Well, I laughed half the way to Tokyo
I dreamt I was Surfer Joe
An' what that means, I don't know.

A dream too tired to come true
Left a rebel without a clue
And I'm searching for somethin' to do.

And if it's just a game
Then we'll hold hands just the same
So what, we're bleeding but we ain't cut.

And I could purge my soul perhaps
For the imminent collapse.
Oh yeah, I'll tell you what we could do...
You be me for a while
I'll be you.

A dream too tired to get to (come true)
Left a rebel without a clue
Won't you tell me what I should do?

And if it's just a lull
why'm I bored right outta my skull?
Oh yeah, keep me from feeling so dull

And if it's just a game
Then we'll break down just in case
Then again, I'll tell you what we could do
You be me for a while...
You be me for a while...
I'll be you.

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