All Shook Down
It’s debatable whether All Shook Down constitutes a proper Replacements album; rhythm section Chris Mars and Tommy Stinson only appear on one track, and are augmented by a host of guest musicians including John Cale, Terry Reid, Tom Petty’s Benmont Tench, and Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin. And, while All Shook Down is hardly adult contemporary, it’s a lot more mature and subdued than The Replacements were only a few years earlier. Of course it was impossible that Paul Westerberg could go on playing the perpetual adolescent forever with any dignity, and he does an excellent job of updating the group’s outlook; much of the appeal of the album lies in its world-worn atmosphere.
‘My Little Problem’, the duet with Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, feels like another blatant attempt at a crossover hit, but I always look forward to it since it’s one of the most upbeat songs on the record. Westerberg’s knack for pop hooks is intact; the chorus of ‘When It Began’ and the guitar figure of ‘Torture’ both elevate their respective songs, even though they’re two of All Shook Down’s slightest songs. The strongest material is more profound, ‘The Last’ documents Westerberg’s newfound sobriety, while ‘Sadly Beautiful’ is slow and mournful. The title track and ‘Someone Take The Wheel’ both have an ambiguity that elevate them above mere singer-songwriter material. Westerberg’s stock of quotable and profound one-liners also remains intact; “Would it help to fall in love a little slower”, Westerberg asks in ‘The Last’, “I know it hurts at any speed.” “You’re still in love with nobody,” he tells an old lover; “I used to be nobody.”
It’s not a great record in the vein of their mid eighties’ triumphs, but All Shook Down does show The Replacements bowing out with their dignity intact, and it’s a more than respectable final recording and a worthy addition to their catalogue.