Well, this isn’t punk at all! Though The Replacements are supposedly about loud songs and youth and rebellion and stuff, this is only their second album and already they’re filling it with spy music, country ramblers, half-covers, and improvisations. What the heckfire’s going on here?
I don’t know either, obviously. But I have a few thoughts, and I’d figure they all figured in, figuratively speaking:
1) Lack of material – It’s the classic “2nd album” problem – bands suddenly have about a year to put together a whole new album of material, while on tour, while under pressure, and don’t come up with as full an album as they did the first time around. Add to this the sorta-fact that The Replacements weren’t a great studio band and the resulting frustration explains why, for instance, the end of “Treatment Bound” calls for a solo, but then the end abruptly ends and Westerberg says he fucked up the chords, or why they included “Buck Hill”, the aforementioned country-spy music jam, and the title track, where they just kinda jam on the wrong instruments while yelling “It’s A Hootenanny”, apparently for chuckles. Note that the latter is not actually as much fun to listen to as it may have been to perform. It is, however, probably almost as frustrating to have to hear it as the first track every time you turn on the goddamned album.
2) Boredom – See, at least a couple of these guys clearly didn’t want to write one to two minute long punkish yelly songs forever, and they already did it really well on their first album, not to mention 31 times on their first album. So now there’s a lot of “experimentation.” Luckily, it’s not shitty experimentation, and it’s not goddamned “atmospheric” music, the latter being a code word for a band not having any hooks and substituting overproduction – see Band Of Horses’ second album. There’s only three old-timey fast “rockers” here, and two of them aren’t any good.
3) Getting older – apparently The ‘Mats started to get all serious on their next album, but I see all sorts of signs of it here. No longer are they all just driving around drinking and dropping out of school. Here is where Westie and co. start to confront their drinking problems and (perhaps) objectionable lifestyle choices, and that makes for fewer good timey fun songs and more for songs that fit the more introspective mood. Though being smart and being twenty (or whatever young age they were) don’t go together particularly well, and they still seem to be having a good time. Or having a frustrating, angry time, it’s hard to tell, but they still aren’t taking things too seriously while they note their downfall.
Luckily, these guys are a very good band, and point 2) was a good call. They were way too effective to continue with their silly “Careless” and “Takin’ A Ride”-ing ways. They hadn’t quite figured out doing new things, but consarnit, they were well on their way, and while they seem to have figured out that they were moving on in-studio and didn’t really know what to do, most of what they did do turns out very well. The best songs on here are “Take Me Down To The Hospital”, just listen to how it suddenly switches from a buzzing guitar-led rocker into a bass-led country-ish stomper ten seconds in! ….And “Treatment Bound”, which is a fantastically catchy, purposefully lo-fi tale of alcoholism and where it might lead us all. Plus, it appears as a bonus track in not shitty lo-fi form, albeit with a way worse vocal! Plus, the spoken word + jam song “Lovelines” starts with the immortal line “slightly overweight girls need sex also” – and then you get to laugh at how he says “hormones” later on!
Unfortunately, the other version of “Lovelines” is terrible. Also, the brooding, almost proto-Nirvana “Willpower” isn’t very good at all. Also, the requisite acoustic-demo-that-didn’t-get-recorded, “Bad Worker,” is great! “Minimum effort for minimum wage”!