Picks and Pans Review: All Shook Down

updated 11/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Replacements

Everybody knows the Replacements are the proto-postpunk band. Everybody, that is, except the group's leader, Paul Westerberg, who keeps getting better and better at writing these pretty pop tunes.

Never before has he composed songs as achingly sad and sweet as two on this album: the world-weary title track and the forlorn "Sadly Beautiful," which is reminiscent of the kid-glove numbers Ronnie Lane used to slip onto Faces' albums once in a while ("Richmond," for instance).

The other highlights are livelier, such as "Nobody," "Attitude" and "Merry Go Round." But the dominant instrument here is, mirabile dictu, acoustic guitar.

Though the Replacements' style is still attractively rough-hewn, the musicianship is sharper than normal for the Minneapolis quartet. (Listen to the piano-lounge ivory tickling on "The Last.") The upgrade is no doubt due to the number of guest players who contributed, among them Benmont Tench, Steve Berlin and John Cale.

All the hired hands have also given rise to rumors that the Replacements are about to break up. But they can't account for the evolution of the arrangements on this album, for instance, the honking Berlin sax that counterpoints the melody of "One Wink at a Time."

The band hasn't forgotten how to rattle your cage, as it proves on the down-the-stairs-in-a-heap "My Little Problem," the bounding "Bent Out of Shape" and the new-broom sweep of "Happy Town." Westerberg's voice, all white knuckles and sloppy brushwork, still sounds most comfortable on the rousers. But increasingly his songs would be comfortable in any setting.

Soon you may find yourself in an elevator hearing a Muzak version of a Replacements tune—this from a band whose no-frills first album was titled Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. Hey, stranger things have happened. (Sire)

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