Review Summary: The Replacements mediocre is everyone else high water mark.
Paul Stark, co-founder of legendary Minneapolis indie record label Twin/Tone Records and engineer for "Hootenanny", astutely described the sessions for "Hootenanny" a "joke" and that the band "didn't care what they delivered." Judging by the finished product, he sure wasn't fooling. Stylistically, the Mats 2nd album and follow up to the rollicking' chronicle of teenage apathy "Sorry Ma, I Forgot to Take out the Trash", lurches and lunges from one disparate idea to another like an inebriated sailor who can't quite settle on which is his whore of choice. Subsequently, the album is a disjointed, unfocused and unkempt affair.
This reckless abandon might appear a seamless and perfect fit for a band that was infamous for their drunken hi jinks; drummer Chris Mars became "Pappy the Clown" after too much booze and often played gigs in full clown makeup and attire, and wildly varying live performances but the record plays without a consistent flow. It never successfully gets a rhythm going and while there are moments of pure, unadulterated greatness, ultimately the album feels more like a compilation of forgettable b-sides than a sequenced, coherent record.
For example, opener "Hootenanny" is a disposable, prank song recorded at random during the sessions to irk Stark who was attempting to be somewhat professional. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Michael Azerrad's verdict on the track. It's not as funny as it thinks. Another odd track is the po-faced Cure-esque Goth number replete with repetitive mid-tempo bass-line, moaning, echoing vocals and an overbearing, forced atmosphere of foreboding and menace.
Halfway through the album sits the Beatles medley "Mr. Whirley", that is unashamedly entertaining but immediately forgettable. Combine these three tracks with "Lovelines", a song whose lyrics are excerpts from lovelorn personal ads and already a quarter of the album is comprised of whiff of redundancy.
Despite its shortcomings, the record has a multitude of saving graces. The rock n roll punk of "Run it" and "Take Me Down to the Hospital" keeps the tempo relatively upbeat early on while the endgame one-two punch of "You Lose" and "Hayday" keeps the second half from petering out into farce. While these tracks certainly don't stack up against the rockers of the Mats debut they are undoubtedly the glue that keeps "Hootenanny" precariously held together.
Then there's the two classic Mat songs hidden inside like Nabokov amongst Wodehouse. Both these songs hint at the future, alt rock direction of the band and in fact match the Mats best material for melody and heart on sleeve lyricism. "Color me Impressed" is simply an anthem. It demands fist in the air, every man Springsteen-esque sing-along's and paves the way for tracks like "I Will Dare" and "Bastards of Young". Ballad, "Within Your Reach" displays for the first time the deeply introspective nature of Paul Westerberg. "Johnny's Gonna Die" from "Sorry Ma" had previously been low-key and restrained but lyrically it was close to social commentary and therefore relatively close in theme at least to the Replacements peers. "Within Your Reach" is a mournful ballad of unrequited love, more Petrarchan sonnet than anything else. These songs displayed Westerberg's ambition to move beyond the stifling confines of the 80's indie scene into areas that may have been deemed square in more dogmatic indie circles.
Ultimately, the album serves as a trial run for follow up "Let it Be" which became an instant classic upon its release with its more coherent and less frivolous approach. It's humour would be more subtle and it's heart more overt. Still though the Mats version of mediocre remains neck and shoulders above most bands efforts. Clearly, their musical ambitions were within their reach.