Review Summary: An album that would've been a much more suitable and less abrupt conclusion to one of the greatest rock groups in history [The Replacements] than 1990's "All Shook Down".
Paul Westerberg: Lead vocals & guitar
Tommy Stinson: Bass
Slim Dunlap: Guitar
Chris Mars: Drums
It had been a whopping five years since the release of their highly-praised magnum opus, "Let It Be", and also since the Minneapolis alternative rock quartet the Replacements supposedly sold their souls to a major label (Sire). After putting out a slew of 80s alt rock classics such as "Tim" and "Pleased To Meet Me", the Mats must have finally decided to tone it down a bit with their humorous anger and their traditional punk rock roots altogether and to just give more of a straightforward rock sound, but nevertheless on 1989's "Don't Tell a Soul", listeners still had Paul Westerberg's introspective lyrics intact.
Taking more of a early-era college rock approach on this album just as they had presented to a certain extent on previous works like 1983's "Hootenanny" and 1984's "Let It Be", the band gives us a touching musical sensation of mature lyrical themes and a bit of private disillusionment from their usual perspective as funny and mischievous adolescents, rather than trying to maintain some sort of hipper-than-thou feel to it. Just like your typical Replacements album, "Don't Tell a Soul" opens on am appropriately-straightforward note with the first track "Talent Show". The song introduces us to the overall theme of the album with lyrics such as "In my waxed up hair and my painted shoes, got an offer that you might refuse","We ain't much to look at so close your eyes, here we go", and "It's too late to turn back, now here we go".
Next we move on to the second track, "Back To Back", which probably kicks off with one of the best Replacements guitar intros I've ever heard since "I Will Dare" or "Kick Your Door Down", but still is not nearly as aggressive or energetic as their previous anthems. Just like "Talent Show", "Back To Back" seems to maintain both a clear and refined quality of sound thanks to producer Matt Wallace and also has a good flow in the rhythm throughout the entire song. The third track, "We'll Inherit the Earth" breaks in with fresh and fast acoustic strumming as Paul Westerberg makes his way into the song with his line "Shocking how nothing shocks anymore". The song is probably my favorite off of the album. It just has some of the band's best lyrics. "We can't hold our tongues at the top of our lungs!" Come on that's just an ingeniously simple rhyme that'll make listeners kick themselves for not thinking of it before.
With more traditional and humble rock tunes like "Achin' To Be", "They're Blind", and "I'll Be You", 1989's "Don't Tell a Soul" definitely could qualify as one of the earliest college rock albums standing with R.E.M.'s "Murmur" and several other albums of the 1980s. It is also the Mats' most lyrically-oriented album, but it does contain some catchy melodies here and there as well as some undeniably great rhythm to it. However, for your average rock listener today, it may come off as a tad dull or vapid seeing as its such an easy-going record in comparison to the Replacements' earlier works, but hey I say they should just grow some tolerance for more mature and relaxing music or else they won't know what they're missing.
After the eight track and first single released off of this album, "I'll Be You", we get a listen to the most as well as the only energetic track on this entire work, "I Won't". The song is just so exciting with the upbeat and heavy tempo with Westerberg singing "You want to send a letter or a note" and howling "I wo-wo-wo-wo-wo-won't" like some sort of Native American blues singer.
Unfortunately, not all albums can be perfect. Not even this particular Mats record. It closes on a rather boring note with the last two tracks "Rock n' Roll Ghost" and "Darlin' One", "Ghost" being the most dull out of the two in my opinion. Lyrically, they're not too shabby and I think they met up to the expectation of mature and wise lyrics that was established on this album, but musically the final two songs are just a bit listless. I know it seems a bit unreasonable to most people to just go and knock an album's musical merit or magnitude down just for the lack of quality in only one or two songs, but it's only an eleven track album here anyway and 2 out of 11 is a significant enough portion of an album to make such an overall judgement. Plus, with what we've heard from the "last best rock band of the 80s", we knew all along that they've done much better in concluding an album (i.e. "Answering Machine", "Can't Hardly Wait", "Treatment Bound", "Here Comes a Regular", etc.) However, I'd still listen to this over their final album "All Shook Down", which seems much more like the start of Westerberg's solo career than the absolute end of the Replacements saga in alternative music.