Some would say All Shook Down is The Replacements going out with a whimper. Some won't claim it as part of the band's canon because for all intents and purposes, it is a Paul Westerberg solo album. And some are just glad that it sounded nothing like the glossy Don't Tell A Soul. Coming from Don't Tell A Soul, I saw it is a natural progression, not a total divergence. The band grew older, tired, maybe not any wiser, and musical tastes shifted. And, they knew it was over.
All Shook Down was stripped down, sparse, raw and honest. However, gone was the disaffected fire and fury, replaced with calm clarity -- his mind was made up, but the divorce was not yet final. When Paul turned his eyes and pen back to himself, the introspection was touching and precise, and he rendered a collection of intimate and mature songs. It was if the the tortured poet finally began to come clean. There was no hiding behind a jokey song here, and booze just muddled the view. With the exception of My Little Problem, not one song sounded like a 'Mats song. That bluster was gone, but the self awareness was still alive and kicking, however, its bitterness had softened with time, and that makes All Shook Down the perfect coda for the band.
If not for two stunning songs, All Shook Down would have been my least favorite album by the band. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have a place in my daily listening. The somber reflective nature of the songs, dazzling with their hard learned truths, means it's not a party album. It's a deeply personal album, perfect for headphones, closed eyes, and a sunny spring day. Press play and suddenly you're hearing a soundtrack to your mid-20's -- trying to just make it for one more minute when everything keeps knocking you down. Yet Paul's lyrical mastery keeps it from being a total downer.
The two stunners, the tender heartbreak of Sadly Beautiful, and the everyman melancholy of Nobody, keep the album out of last place. Nobody could have done that by itself with Paul's take on an ex's wedding.
"Heartaches, on your wedding day, double takes when they look my way
Knees quake, there ain't a shotgun in the place
You like the frostin', you just bought the cake, your eyes can't fake
Still in love with nobody and I won't tell nobody"
He's equally as reflective on When it Began and The Last, thumbs his nose with a little Attitude, and is wistfully sad on Torture. The lone rocking song, My Little Problem, features Paul duetting with Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano, making it the most Replacements sounding song on the entire album. You can almost see them, guitars in hand, playfully butt bumping each other away from the microphone for each verse. I wish they had done more together.
I spent a lot of time with All Shook Down in the early 90's, wearing out two cassettes, much of the damage done on those lonely 11 hour drives from Dallas to North Alabama, and then replaced later on by CD. Back then, I felt like Paul's rearview mirror was my rearview mirror. And while it may not be a gateway album, it's vital as it serves as a perfect segue to Paul's solo works. All Shook Down was just a nod of the head and a good-bye for now.
Key Tracks: Nobody, Sadly Beautiful, Merry Go Round, Happy Town, My Little Problem
1. Merry Go Round
2. One Wink at a Time
4. Bent Out of Shape
5. Sadly Beautiful
6. Someone Take the Wheel
7. When It Began
8. All Shook Down
10. Happy Town
12. My Little Problem
13. The Last