Review Summary: "I guess you could say that we're a sloppy rock and roll band that tries to straddle the line between comedy and tragedy"-Paul Westerburg
Try to imagine the stereotypical class clown. The type of person you might crack a smile at every now and then, but might ultimately pass off as juvenile. The type of person with a spitball ready, just waiting for it to let fly. Now, imagine four of these people started a rock band that embodied this snotty, carefree attitude. After this, it might seem like a stretch to assume that they gradually developed and embraced a sensitive side, but this is the best way to describe the The Replacements
. While they hinted at maturity on previous releases and relied on it completely afterwards, Let It Be found the perfect medium between lightheartedness and genuine sincerity, the band's yin and yang if you will.
Opening with jangling 12-string chords, singer Paul Westerberg and company signal a deviation from their ragged punk roots from the get go. And what an opener "I Will Dare" is, with power pop undertones and Chris Mars' bouncy drumming reinventing the Mats' sound. Yet, Westerberg's lyrics have enough dry humor and half-assedness to let listeners know that they haven't completely abandoned their roots. And this is especially helpful, considering how almost half the tracks tracks go by at a breakneck pace with no ***s given whatsoever. After all, this was a band that got into snotball fights and yelled "***" into venue microphones, just to laugh as it echoed past the few ears they didn't yet alienate. There are just enough tracks on here to tap anyone on the shoulder who might have otherwise forgotten this. In the second track, "Favorite Thing," the song ends in a shout-along of "I think big once in a while," and this might as well be the album's thesis statement. The only thing is, The Replacements were never about making a statement, but the line shows the dichotomy of their apathy and counteracting ambitions.
The sillier, punk songs play like throwaways on the first listen, and that's because they kind of are. At the same time, the recklessness that drives the music and especially the lyrics make them genuinely endearing, something that can't be said for most filler songs. In their blaze of destruction, they invoke pity, with Westerberg ranting "One more time to do it all wrong, one more night to get it half right," in equal parts self-deprecation and awareness. As much as the songs joke around, it's almost always at the Mats' expense. And by titling songs "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and "Gary's Got a Boner," anybody listening immediately knows what awaits them, and they're guaranteed to make you smile if not change your life. The latter, however, is where the slower songs come in.
The rest of the record shows Westerberg's songwriting at its most sincere and heartfelt. While the band was known for self-sabotage carelessness, it doesn't take long to realize how humanly tragic this is. Their overall apathy was means for reflecting on wasted potential and damning failure. By pairing hardcore-influenced songs that go by with guns blazing with beautifully melancholy ballads, the latter become all the more heartbreaking. Tracks such as "Unsatisfied" and "Sixteen Blue" have an alienating emptiness to them, and it feels as though every word can drive you to tears, whether it's your first or hundredth time listening. The final track, "Answering Machine" is no less gut-wrenching, as Westerberg tries to connect with a lost love through messaging her, knowing all the while it's an exercise in futility. Only echoing guitar chords and tambourine back the lyrics, leaving Westerberg unable to hide behind a sloppy rock band hellbent on its own destruction.
Let It Be is a great record because it never feels perfect. The songs are an unpredictable blend of heartbreaking and half-hearted, and it goes between this in a relentlessly back and forth fashion for the entire 33 & 1/2 minute run time. All the while, this makes the Mats' all the more human and their inevitable self-destruction all the more tragic.