This is a brilliant rock & roll album: as loose as it is deliberate, as pretty as it is hard rocking and as pissed off at all the right things (“Seen Your Video,” “Androgynous”) as it is hilarious (“Gary’s Got a Boner”).
Paul Westerberg — the Replacements’ lead singer, songwriter and principal guitarist on Let It Be — writes about funny little things, like “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out,” then fills the songs with anger, frustration and excitement. His voice is great — so desperate when he sings, “How do you say I’m lonely to an answering machine,” so sympathetic when he sings, “Your age is the hardest age; everything drags and drags.” In “Androgynous,” Westerberg seems to find shortcomings in the whole lot of males in his generation: “Don’t get him wrong/Don’t get him mad/He might be a father, but he sure ain’t a dad,” he sings sadly. And in the heavy rocker “Favorite Thing,” with the other members of the Replacements pounding behind him, he screams like an incensed Joe Strummer.
Whereas most of the songs on the group’s first two albums, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and Hootenanny, were speeding, hard-driven rock, there’s an amazing range to Let It Be. Westerberg works out his many different ideas by occasionally augmenting the band — which is almost invariably awful live — with friends like R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on guitar and the Suburbs’ Chan Poling on piano. He leads into “Unsatisfied” with a gorgeous solo on twelve-string acoustic guitar, then tears out your heart singing, “Everything goes or anything goes/All of the time/Everything you dream of is right in front of you/Liberty is a lie.” Of course, he’s not the first rocker who wanted satisfaction and couldn’t get any, but in an age when most rock records are studied and wimpy, this rugged album feels truly fresh.