If living in the past is a weakness, escaping it is a challenge few musicians can meet. Last year, singer songwriter-guitarist Paul Westerberg gambled the Replacements’ edge-of-chaos credibility on Don’t Tell a Soul, a subdued, mature rock album that underwhelmed devoted fans of the onetime punk quartet. After that disappointment, bets were on that the chastened Minneapolis group would either disband or reclaim the glorious din of its youth. Surprisingly, the Replacements have taken another route entirely, lowering both the volume and intensity even further.
Except for the backbeat and some rip-snorting guitar, All Shook Down hardly registers on the sonic or soulful Richter scale. Acoustic instruments, a temperate attitude, and too many studio guests (Concrete Blonde singer Johnette Napolitano handily ruins ”My Little Problem”) underscore the extent of the group’s redirection.
The secret to Westerberg’s genius has always been the roughshod, high-voltage delivery of touching, ironic sentiments. Eliminating that tension leaves many of his pretty and affecting new songs more than a mite flimsy-sounding. That’s not to consign the Replacements to a single simple formula: The rocking ”Bent Out of Shape” jumps off the disc, as does ”Sadly Beautiful,” a tender ballad colored by John Cale’s haunting viola. But other numbers lack the energy — be it electric, emotional, melodic, or lyrical — to put All Shook Down up on the mantle with the Replacements’ best. B-