Monday, June 23, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 174): "UNSATISFIED" (1984) The Replacements

Sometimes you just got to go with your feeling.

The Replacement’s Let It Be turns thirty fucking years old this coming October. Maybe I’ll commemorate it again then, but, for now, today’s song, the lead-off on Side 2, is just right.  And I just heard The Replacements are going on tour again as The Replacements. Everything old is back again. It’s like the Eighties are coming back, all sins forgiven.

Well, no, not quite. But the thing about Let It Be is that it’s not the Eighties most people remember when they say “the Eighties.” These guys were way under the radar unless you were really into alternative. I think of that line from Hi Fidelity—“remember the people who, after Nirvana broke, said they’d always been punk”?  Yeah, same here. Suddenly The ‘mats are everybody’s best band. Couldn’t have survived without them.

I wouldn’t go that far. I had a tape of this album in ’84 because my friend Tim (we used to joke that the ‘mats named an album after him) had all their early stuff on vinyl and I had a Nakamichi, so didn’t buy the LP and now wish I had.  Anyway, I just picked up a first ever pressing of All Shook Down on vinyl, so maybe the early catalog will get reiussed.

I became more a believer the further they—and especially Paul Westerberg—went along the way of writing real songs. Because today’s song really isn’t “a song.” It’s a rant, with guitars. It’s such a rant it can’t even be bothered to come up with lyrics, really. And that’s the way it should be, and that’s the way Let It Be is. I know it’s got all kinds of critical street-cred and is “brilliant” and “mature” and all. But really, at the time it sounded like some guys deep into arrested development throwing their teen-aged angst at the wall, knowing full well that they hadn’t been teens in about five years and that only made it worse. In 1984, I turned 25 myself, and it’s the age when you start thinking about things like rock’n’roll. Is it for real? Was it just for that hormone surge from 12 to 17? With maybe some aging rocksters lighting the way to 30?

Do I want to hear Westerberg howl this one out at 55? Well, why not? I’m ready to. I’m just as “unsatisfied” as I was then, maybe even more so. But when I listen to the track (and the uploaded YouTube version sounds like crap, with the remastered one worse), I’m listening to the mid-twenties band, still new to the game of trying to make a record they actually give a shit about, thrashing away, creating one of the great anthems for our age group. Or that age group—mid-twenties—for all time.

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They called the album Let It Be, which was a hoot in itself. The album The Beatles pulled themselves apart while making. Talk about being unsatisfied! And the very notion of being “satisfied” or not getting “satisfaction” riffs off a certain other band’s first #1 U.S. hit. In other words, The ‘mats had the temerity to blast us with some of our old Beatles and Stones longings, trashing our need for idols for our enjoyment.  There are some great songs on there, if by great we mean, unforgettably characteristic of the ramshackle blitz that was The Replacements, the antithesis of “tight” and “slick,” the carriers of the torch for feeling over meaning and “fuck it” over “fix it.”

The song, which mainly just keeps demanding “look me in the eye and tell me / that I’m satisfied,” twists the notion around in different ways. My favorite bit is when, after saying that, he restates “look me in the eye” then a pause, “are you satisfied?” The question doesn’t come as an “I’m unsatisfied, are you satisfied?” query; it’s asking, after you look me in the eye, are you satisfied with your answer.  Like, it should be abundantly clear. One look and you can tell.

The song has great sweeps of guitar—is that a twelve-string?—and even a little bass climbing that might do Paulie McC proud. It has all the earmarks of greatness and when Westerberg throws in some lyrics in the bridge—“Anything goes, and everything goes / And all of the time / Everything you dream of is right in front of ya”—and then starts slurring and muttering, it’s as perfect as it can be. It’s the breakdown of communicative singing. My sense is that, performing it live, he would have to “emote” a bit. But on the track he sounds like he’s overcome by the pain in the ass of trying to make sense. Of trying to say something about why he’s unsatisfied and even, yes, dissatisfied.  You’ve got to really care about words to be able to treat them like that. Like friends you have to put down sometimes and use sometimes and sometimes just walk away from. And then what almost feels like a hook: “I’m so, I’m so, unsatisfied.”

Tell me what’s wrong.

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