J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Return Trip: Slim Dunlap - The Old New Me

Slim Dunlap
The Old New Me
(Medium Cool ; 1993)

I had an enlightening conversation with my friend, James, once. We were discussing one thing or another about Black Flag, more or less his favorite band. And he said (paraphrasing): "Yeah, I know their later albums aren't that good, but I love the band, so, I like even their worst material." It was something that stuck with me over time - obsessions lead us down some winding, lonely paths sometimes with our love of art. For me, it's the Replacements. If you want to hear any post-Replacements solo/band work by any of the members, odds are that I can hook you up. (One exception being the very independently released Static Taxi cd, the only band that Bob Stinson played in after his departure from the band that ever recorded anything.) Drummer Chris Mars' four solo albums? Check. Frontman/Guitarist Paul Westerberg's numerous releases? Check. Bass player Tommy Stinson's various bands and lone solo album? Check and double-check.

I also have both of guitarist Slim Dunlap's LPs - and these, along with the cream of Westerberg's output and the lone Bash and Pop album, are my favorites amongst the various members' work. Slim was always the one people forget. He was, after all, the inheritor of the lead guitar position left vacant by the band's ejection of Bob Stinson, a long questioned move. When you name members of the band, he's not the one that immediately comes to mind - well, him and poor Steve Foley.

So, why the long introduction to this album? This is the first time I've sat down and re-listened to the complete The Old New Me in quite some time. This is Slim's debut LP, released the same year as Westerberg's solo debut. Listening to it, I realized that it's a record that people could enjoy, but only fanatics could love. I hate to put it that way - Slim is a talented guitarist and songwriter, but only listeners already in-tune with the mindset that the Replacements' music embodied is going to be able to put on this record, listen from front to back, and evaluate it as a great work. Does that make it any less of a great album? Absolutely not.

It opens with "Rockin Here Tonight," a slow-burning rocker that channels every bit of the Rolling Stones that ever flowed through Slim's fingers - Keith Richards nearly walks out of my stereo every time I play it. It's full of the working-man-musician bravado and self-deprecation that typifies so much of both of Slim's solo records. The following track, "Just for the Hell of It," continues in a vein that, again, sounds like the exiled main street musicians have come home to roost on the album. It's a wicked set of opening songs and if the whole record continued like this, which it does in spots ("Ain't Exactly Good," "The King and Queen"), it would make for a wonderful set of songs for a jukebox in some way-too-hip-for-school bar tucked away somewhere.

The reality instead is that Slim goes one of three directions: The first two are filler versions of those rockers ("From the Git Go," "Busted Up") and weird, wandering roots-rock that doesn't go anywhere or amount to anything ("Isn't It"). The third direction is the one that makes this record worth returning to over and over: his lovely way with low-key balladry. "Partners in Crime" wouldn't have sounded out of place on Paul Westerberg's then-unreleased sophomore effort, Eventually. It's got clever internal rhymes ("we ain't got money / and we're feelin' funny / it don't get no funnier than that"), cheesy tossed off jokes ("before they know we're gone / we're half way to Oregon") and an infections chorus complete with Westerberg on backing vocals. "Taken on the Chin" is the less serious side of Nebraska - a style that Slim would nail on his sophomore effort's "Hate This Town."

The true gem of this type of song (and indeed, of the record) is "The Ballad of the Opening Band." Essentially the album's closing track (excluding the final instrumental), it's sentimental, maudlin and hopeful - a perfect epitome of what every Replacements fan has probably assumed working life for the band members has been like. It has a gentle bitterness about it ("you were going to be a singer on the hit parade / now you're just the singer warming up the stage / for tomorrow's latest rage") that is eased by a weird feeling that this is the life that the narrator knows he's bound for - it's not good, it's not bad, it just is. To not continue is not a choice. In light of the Replacements' last great shot at commercial success (1989's Don't Tell a Soul - with its legendarily depressing and shambling tour opening for Tom Petty), it seems aimed both inward and outward simultaneously. It's a touching and heart-breaking song that ends with just a shrug - life goes on, after all.

My views of this record are heavily biased, and I think it would be impossible for me to approach this record from any perspective other than as a doting fan. But in being honest about that, I hope it can allow you, as a listener, to approach this album without being wary of my thoughts. Sadly out of print, it's the type of record that, for me and others, is well worth hunting down and holding dear. Until, that is, it's time to share it once again.

Rating: E(xcellent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Slim Dunlap - "Rockin Here Tonight"

Slim Dunlap - "Partners in Crime"

Slim Dunlap - "The Ballad of the Opening Band"

Find a used copy of The Old New Me at Amazon.

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