Book Review: Phases & Stages
Reviewed by Neph Basedow, Fri., April 1, 2016
Bob Mehr funneled a decade's worth of research into Trouble Boys, interviewing the Replacements themselves and their families as well. That first-handedness distinguishes his in-depth read from the 2007 oral history by Jim Walsh, The Replacements: All Over but the Shouting. The Memphis Commercial Appeal critic commences on square one, detailing members' ill-starred childhoods – mainly brothers Tommy (bassist) and Bob Stinson (late guitarist). Early dysfunction thus backlights the dark roots of the Minneapolis foursome's hardwired hijinks. Rascals to the core, punk rock proved their mutinous musical crux.
"The soul of rock & roll is mistakes," opines frontman Paul Westerberg.
Alcoholism heeds leitmotif. Indulgence and mischief therefore materialize as cries for attention from boyhoods lost. 'Mats tunes and 'tude invariably coexist, so Mehr's sub rosa squints into the music making enthrall. The former Village Voice columnist details each of the band's seven LPs, from the early-Eighties gutter punk of debut Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash to what their singer termed the "bubblegum garage music" of All Shook Down a decade later. Songs' inspirations and studio squabbles enlighten, as does their composer's insight. Westerberg deems Let It Be jewel "Unsatisfied" as "overrated, half-assed, half-baked."
Twin Cities' punk rock pecking order pits the band in a mercurial rivalry with Hüsker Dü, but though the former's bandleader longed to be "as big as R.E.M.," that desire to bud commercially became stunted through self-sabotage come crunch time.
"The fact that we came up short is the thing that's kept us interesting," reckons Westerberg today.
Grave revelations, coupled with side-splitting stories of booze-fueled bedlam, net Mehr's biography as definitive. Ace reporting and the author's shrewd parlance boost this tragicomedy page-turner past paean to allusive eulogy of rock & roll's foremost troublemakers.
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacementsby Bob Mehr
Perseus Books Group, 474 pp., $27.50