Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Replacements: Don't Tell a Soul [Sire, 1989]
Circa Let It Be, Bob Stinson's guitar was a loud, unkempt match for Paul Westerberg's vocal, only he'd juice the notes with a little something extra and probably wrong, defining a band whose idea of inspiration was crashing into a snowbank and coming out with a six-pack. Especially on side two, the basic guitar move here is much classier: new guy Slim Dunlap plays hooks. On "Back to Back" Westerberg sings "Back to back" and Dunlap doubles a four-note cadence, on "Achin' to Be" Westerberg sings "She's achin' . . ." and Dunlap chimes in two-one two-three--like that. They aren't always so simplistic, but a decade-plus after the dawning of power pop the device reeks of the mechanical--except in country music, where formula is part of the charm, it's tough to bring off without sounding corny or manipulative. At its worst--I vote for "Achin' to Be," which starts off "She's kinda like an artist" and never once slaps itself upside the head--Don't Tell a Soul is both. At its best--the Who homage "I Won't" ("I w-w-w-w-w-won't"), the Tommy Stinson anthem "Anywhere's Better Than Here," or even "I'll Be You," with Dunlap reaching bell-like through serious clamor--it sounds like old times. B+