Replacements Archives: Twin Tone Madness, Garage Rock Mania
The following article originally appeared in the September, 1981 issue of The Twin Cities Reader
By D.L. Mabery
Like cinnamon on tapioca, independent record labels (from Bomp to Ze) have always played a vital part in the history of rock 'n' roll. Both Elvises, for example, started recording their music for independents (Presley on Sun, Costello on Stiff) before being snatched up by the mega-labels. Serving an audience the Warner Brothers and Columbia's choose to ignore, the independent labels market bands that have developed a strong local following--popular bands which don't seem to ahve whatever pizzaz it takes to woo the major labels' interest. By being gutsy enough to record seminal bands like the Velvet Underground, the indies generally strike upon the talent while it is fresh, innovative and, most importantly, hard working. Some independents have the distribution muscle of major labels (IRS has A&M's support; Planet records has Elektra; Takoma has Chrysalis). Yet, the bottom line in the philosophy of the small companies is music for the enjoyment of it. And to hell with profit.
Formed in 1978 by engineer Steve Fjelstad, Oarfolk coolster Peter Jesperson and producer Paul Stark "as a sort of hobby," Twin Tone boasts 26 releases (from the classic double-LP Big Hits From Mid-America, Vol. III to Curtis A's debut Courtesy). The Twin Tone Trio are now tying up tapes from their recent Seventh Street Entry live sessions with 19 local rock bands for January 1982 release. Twin Tone considers itself a rock label, not particularly interested in trends or fashion (witness their aural experiments on Orchid Springleford). Twin Tone does not provide its co-owners with Kenwood townhouses nor Perrier--they're presently breaking even, and all the "employees" earn their bread from day jobs. In the grand tradition of independent records, Twin Tone exists solely to showcase the local bands.
The recent Twin Tone album trilogy would give any visitor to the dual cities an accurate crash course of Minnesota's rock 'n' roll forefront: the genres represented run the gamut from the basic rock of the Pistons to the demi-avant doodlings of the Suburbs.
When I walked into the March 4th boutique of downtown Minneapolis with my three Tone albums in tow, the sales lady was animated about the Replacements' Trash LP and ignored the two other vinyl offerings.
Peter Jesperson; former DJ & music deep-ear for local bars, came across a demo of the Replacements over a year ago and, in a fever of rock devotion, decided he had to record the band. Yet, what makes this year-in-the-waiting debut so frustrating is that Trash fails to convey the sonic awesomeness of the band. On a good night in the cavern of Seventh Street Entry this band is an audio-visual maelstrom. The two-minute jack-hammer-blast of songs is aided by the boy's show & tell stage presence. Things like songwriter Paul Westerberg's tip-toe stretch to reach the microphone instead of simply lowering the stand to mouth height, or a left leg that quivers from the thigh down like a dying trout as Westerberg keeps time with the demon speed pace of his songs. Or witnessing the blond Tommy Stinson skipping across the stage with his bass when excited by the riff he's drilling out, striking any number of rock star poses.
On its own, Trash offers 18 songs the average time of which clocks in at two minutes. The album's anti-inflationary production tries to capture that apocalyptic whirl of Westerberg and Stinson's guitars, as they assault each song like circling helicopters. On record, the vocal tracks sound sincere yet uninspired. There is little in a room with microphones and wire to ignite the same reaction a singer gets on stage when the drunken slobs in the crowd yell "Get off the stage, you lousy punk!" When riled, Paul Westerberg and Co. are a band to catch, and their better material ("Shutup," "Shiftless," "Otto") is something to be reckoned with. But Trash is just a placid script of what they can accomplish live; it is, to be fair, a souvenir of a good club performance. Listen to Trash when you want to recall that night when you were so sloshed on Old Crow that the bar looked like a grainy black-and-white photography. When Westerberg approaches the microphone and belts out "I'm In Trouble," you knew exactly what he means.
It's doubtful that the kid in Boise, Idaho who saunters into Records, Inc. and deals out his hard earned green backs for a copy of Trash will be knocked out by the material. Then again, it is equally as doubtful if the Replacements even care if anybody in Boise, Idaho likes their record.
On the other side of the treble clef is the Suburbs, with their nouveau brand of audio cool. Credit In Heaven (yet another great title) is the follow up to In Combo, Twin Tone's largest seller to date, turning something like 10,000 copies. Credit has already been dubbed by the local folks "in the know" as being the album capable of breaking the Suburbs on the National Scene. (Let us not forget the Village Voice's critic/demigod Robert Christgau rated In Combo one of his pick hit faves for 1980.)
Opinions at Twin Tone differ as to whether Credit In Heaven will get the 'Burbs signed with a major label. Some believe it will take one more record. The Suburbs are a young band yes, formed three years ago, and still have the time to nurture their white voodoo sound. If the band gets drafted by a major label, the boys at Twin Tone say they'd be proud to have grown as a company with the band. A signing would also raise the profile of Twin Tone. Need I remind you of Stiff Records and Elvis Costello?
The double album is cool and smooth like a good mint julep. Chan Poling's keyboard tinkling takes prominence on the record and gives the project an almost siren-like allure. Put the record on at a party and see how long it takes the dudes in khaki baggy slacks and their raven-haired girlfriends to bop and twist about as metro-cool as possible. Not long at all, I'd say, within four or five notes. And that, my friends, is the mark of a hit. ("Well gee, Dick, I think it is swell, and you sure can dance to it. I'll give it a 95.")
With any album of this length, there will be filler material. (Unless you're Public Image Ltd., and all of your albums are filler.) But Credit fits together as one cohesive piece in the same manner as Taking Heads 77. The listener is given the opportunity to breathe a little and appreciate subtitles in the songs before total blow outs.
The real standout cuts come on sides three and four of Credit, starting off with "Drinking With An Angel," a sure-shot for a single if there ever was one. The bass, guitars and drums hit a strong danceable groove as soon as the song opens. The tune progresses with layer upon layer of new elements until a great rock 'n' roll piano cuts through the mix with a raw emotion that hasn't been heard since Stevie Winwood in the Sixties.
"Music for Boys" is already gathering favorable response from the dance floor at Sam's. If "Angel" doesn't make it as a hit, then "Boys" certainly could.
The highlight of the album, however, is "Girlfriend." A soothing beat is augmented by Poling's echo piano treatments, producing a hazy, trance-like ambience for vocals which are crooned like the Thin White Duke.
The lyrics are spiced with obscure metaphors like "You're my Lear jet with a portable bar" and "You're my sports car and you're really cool when we drive around." The song eventually builds to an appropriate crescendo before relaxing into a post-orgasmic stupor.
Oh yes, and one final note about the Suburbs. You know you can trust a band whose LP credits give special thanks to their hairdressers.
Play the Pistons' Debut, Flight 581, in a crowded room, and someone will note Rolling Stone influences circa Sticky Fingers. That may or may not be a fair observation. There are indeed some very Stonish elements to the Pistons' brand of no-holds-barred, on-the-straight-and-narrow rock 'n' roll--dual guitars, solid rhythm foundation, piano pounding as filler, raunchy sax breaks.
But the Pistons owe a nod and a wink to the power poppers from the Ducks Deluxe/Rockpile school as well. The opening guitar riff of "Chocolate" would do Martin "The Rumour" Belmont proud. "Another Boy" and "Dog Time" are as rambunctious and down-right enjoyable as anything Nick "The Basher" Lowe himself recorded, with or without the aid of sometimes partner/sometimes friend Dave Edmunds.
Flight 581 is the most diversified and universally appealing of the three Twin Tone releases. It's devoid of the pretense of "serious" music, and cleaner in audio reproduction than the sonic head-banging of the angry young men. (Indeed, the production work on the Pistons' album, credited to the band itself with the aid of Steve Fjelstad and Charley Hallman, is the cleanest I've ever heard from a small time label.)
The Pistons are serious musicians (read: both versatile and well-versed) who don't take themselves too seriously. As a matter of a fact, if any of the Twin Tones Trilogy is to make in-roads with that guy out there in Idaho as he furrows the soil for those infamous spuds, it will be the Pistons. Which is what good time rock 'n' roll has the advantage to do, cross boundaries and barriers, and bring ephermeral pleasure to each and all. The Pistons may not make Christgau's Best Of List (who needs the critics anyway?). And they may not be remembered ten years on down the line, but the Pistons' Flight 581 can provide an earphone soundtrack for draggin' Hennepin Avenue on a Friday night.
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