The slashing chords of “Merry Go Round” put the sound right in line with the more radio-friendly direction of the last album, though “One Wink At A Time” immediately turns off the main road with studiously picked acoustics and honking sax. The highlight of the album, and among the best songs Westerberg ever wrote, is “Nobody”, an all-too-real wedding song, toast and kiss-off all at once. The barely contained anger bursts out on “Bent Out Of Shape”, another terrific rocker, and slides back to melancholy for “Sadly Beautiful”, which features a viola solo by the one and only John Cale. “Someone Take The Wheel” provides a bit of upbeat relief, and seems to describe both a failing marriage and a failing band.
The same summation could be applied to “When It Began”, amazingly chosen as the second single from the album to go along with the band’s last tour. The title track is barely there, a half-asleep recitation of non-sequiturs over heavy breathing and recorders. “Attitude” is supposedly the only track that includes the whole band and not session players, and in a perfect world there’d be a nastier electric version that surpasses this polite strum. “Happy Town” gets a boost from Benmont Tench on organ, while the all-too-brief “Torture” is all guitars, with just a tambourine and a harmonica solo. Another special guest is Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, lending her wail to the duet of “My Little Problem”. (He would also collaborate with fellow Les Paul Junior aficionado Joan Jett around this time on “Backlash”, even appearing in the song’s video, but her album bombed.) Finally, “The Last” crosses the lounge style of “Nightclub Jitters” with a less glamorous portrait of yet another drunk.
While not the popular opinion, All Shook Down is a highly underrated album. It may not have been what fans wanted, but as a collection of songs both written and performed well, it holds up. Of the bonus tracks included on the eventual expansion, seven are Westerberg demos, two of which for songs that didn’t make the final album: the very fragile, unsettling “Tiny Paper Plane”, and “Kissin’ In Action”, probably the most “Mats-sounding” track of all when it eventually appeared on the wonderfully titled promo Don’t Sell Or Buy, It’s Crap. That rare disc also included “Ought To Get Love”, a rowdy leftover from the Don’t Tell A Soul sessions, and Tommy Stinson’s excellent writing debut, “Satellite”; both are welcome here.
Personal footnote: Those of us who awaited the album’s release found ourselves in quite the quandary, as it was sold only on cassette or CD in the U.S. Hence, any acquisition would end up filed all alone in a rack far away from its vinyl brothers. (It was available on the fading format in Germany, although a mispress reportedly resulted in side one consisting of duets by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.) Now that vinyl is all the rage at inflated prices, All Shook Down can be procured more readily. Or not.
The Replacements All Shook Down (1990)—4
2008 CD reissue: same as 1990, plus 11 extra tracks