In 1982, the Replacements were Minneapolis' hometown indie heroes. There latest release, Stink, simultaneously lampooned and emulated much of the then-burgeoning hardcore scene of the time. But that wasn't really them. These four had too much classic rock in them for the hardcore scene, but too much snottiness to fit in anywhere else. And between October of 1982 and January 1983 they let it all hang out in some "a warehouse in some godawful suburb north of Mpls." The result of those sessions is Hootenanny.
This record must have been hard for fans in 1983. While there are still elements of the snotty punk rock of Sorry Ma, Forgot to take out the Trash ("Hayday"), and the tongue-in-cheek hardcore of Stink ("Run It," "You Lose"), there's a whole hell of a lot else on this record. There are the bluesier numbers: "Hootenanny" (where the band actually switches instruments for that oh-so-endearing sloppy "Mats" sound), "Take Me Down to the Hospital," "Mr. Whirly" (itself a bastardized version of the Beatles' "Oh Darling," the album crediting this track as "mostly stolen"), "Lovelines" and "Treatment Bound"." But there are also harder-to-place poppier numbers, like "Color Me Impressed" and "Within Your Reach." And then there's the even less classifiable (and perhaps the album's biggest fluke) "Willpower," with its ominously spacious bass track and strangely affected vocals.
The biggest flaw of this record is that it feels like a joke. The Replacements never seemed to take themselves seriously, which seemed, for the most part, a conscious decision to help avoid criticism. But here, they seem to not give a fuck at all. The story has it that they had spent so much time just fucking around in the studio, that by the time they were ready to get serious, they were out of time and that the version of Hootenanny we're all stuck with is just a bunch of drunken and cocaine-fueled (you can hear Paul huff two lines before launching into "Lovelines") fuck-offery. And it does show. This record is certainly the least focused of the Replacements' discography. But there is something to be said for it.
This record, unlike previous ones, shows the listener exactly where the Replacements were headed. "Color Me Impressed" is a wonderful taste of what was to come on the next two albums, and "Within Your Reach" (recorded by Westerberg alone on a synthesizer, guitar and drum machine [which, as Michael Azerrad points out in Our Band Could be Your Life, drops a beat in true Replacements' fashion]) comes from a place both songwriting-wise and musically, that the Replacements wouldn't return to until Pleased to Meet Me.
And of course, there are the B-sides. They tend to run along the same lines as the album, perhaps a little more "punky" than the proper album's offerings. The re-release would feel like a full album as far as cohesiveness with the included B-sides if not for the dumb "walking out of the studio" sound effect that Rhino decided to include in all of these reissues.
Overall, this album is the Replacements at their most Replacements. It captures all the teetering at the edge of chaos that the band was famous for. But musically, it's a transition piece from the snotty punk of the first two records, to the brilliant pop of the rest of their career, and they are doing the punk rock at their best, but haven't yet developed the chops found on Let It Be or Tim. This record, though, is a must-own for Replacements fans and anyone who wants to know their indie rock history.