Let’s hear it for these boys by Chris Ho

Let’s hear it for these boys
by CHRIS HO

The Straits Times, 15 August 1986
Transcribed by Karen Goh


AT LAST, a video of the Replacements. Wow.

The record company executive must have thought I was nuts when I pleaded with him to let me watch the promotional video clip of three songs from the group’s album, Tim.

Of course, he’d seen it and knows what it’s all about. So there I was, fine-tuning my senses to get ready for a real blast of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band’s video on the TV screen.

First song: Bastards of Young. For about a minute and a half, the black-and-white vision rested on the woofer of a loudspeaker throbbing with the beat of the song.

Gee, I thought, how hip. Could this have been directed by Andy Warhol in the same fashion as those amateurish home-made Factory movies of the 60s such as Trash, Heat and Chelsea Girls?

By the time the song reached its final chorus, I realised that that’s it – that’s all I’d get to see. The loudspeaker – playing the song – from start to finish.

Out of sheer curiosity, I sat through the second song – Left of the Dial. Same thing.

And then the third, Hold My Life. Wait a minute, this third one is filmed in colour. But … the rest is the same.

Nothing but a loudspeaker. There’s not even a photo of the group in sight, let alone a movie of the band in action.

Hey, is this a joke or something? And then it dawned on me that the Replacements have devised the ultimate rock video in this age of MTV and pre-packaged pop for rock ‘n’ roll fans.

A video that shatters all expectations (after all, what else is there left to expect with a rock video, they’ve done it all).

Best of all, the Replacements video puts to practice what diehard rock ‘n’ rollers have always preached – music should be heard and not seen with manufactured images.

And then I read the Rolling Stone magazine report.

“If we do a video, we want to do one that nobody would want to watch all the way through, much less twice,” declares Paul Westerberg, frontman of the cult band from Minneapolis.

It would be easy to dismiss the Replacements’ video as a mere gimmick.

But considering how videos are being used to sell records these days, it wouldn’t make sense to say that the video simply dared to be different. After all, it had little or no appeal.

What the Replacements have effectively put across is the message that if you really mean it, do it. Even if it doesn’t make dollars and cents.

Indeed, the group has made a very brave move – an audacious one that no other would dare attempt.

Watching the video after a series of those featuring INXS, Eurythmics and David Lee Roth also spells great relief – at last, some band is saying “enough is enough” where music videos are concerned.

More than having laid its honourable intentions on the line, Replacements has also put out a mighty fine album of raunchy, spirited rock ‘n’ roll that full justifies its hard-nose, radical stand.

Tim is not only the best album released in the past 12 months, it’s easily the best rock ‘n’ roll album of the 80s.

The Rolling Stone review claims that “Tim sounds as if it were made by the last real band in the world”.

However, the impact of its music is not immediate. Compared with the Replacements’ previous work, it may even sound somewhat homogenised – a brittling garage-rock assault on pop-radio that belies the band’s gruelling anything-goes approach.

Producer Tommy Erdelyi (original drummer of the Ramones) has chosen to focus on the band’s nervous energy without trimming off the rough edges. The result is a compact and intricate album that reveals more with repeated listening.

What’s perhaps most striking is the Replacements’ intuitive playing that makes even, say, the hardiest Rolling Stones album, sound studied.

Hence the music has a looseness and tightness that playfully resurrects punk-rock’s glorious chaos and the Stones’ power-packed bar-room punch.

In a hoarse and trembling voice, singer Westerberg, who’s been likened to a “Tom Waits at 45 rpm”, unleashes some of the most remarkable lines ever written in rock:

The ones who love us best
are the ones we’ll lay to rest
and visit their graves on holidays at best; 
the one who love us least
are the ones we’ll die to please
if it’s any consolation
I don’t understand them.

Hard-rocking and sensitive, the Replacements is a band that’s almost too good to be true. But then, that may have something to do with Minneapolis – a city known for rearing geniuses such as Prince and Husker Du.

I’ve lived with Tim for about nine months now and each time I listen to it, it sounds better than ever.

Sitting in front of the loudspeaker cranking out Tim is enough to raise goosebumps and a few hells in our private vision of rock ‘n’ roll.

A vision that comes solely from the loudspeaker, as the video suggested.

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