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There's nothing intrinsically wrong with Colin Meloy's reminiscences about his youth, in which the Replacements feature in passing as one of the bands he liked and he briefly recalls buying the album in his local record shop, but you won't learn anything much about the Replacements themselves or the album in question from reading this and it seems misleading to market it as part of a series about albums. While there's something to be said for not forcing your authors into an editorial straitjacket and making them all write to the exact same formula, nonetheless a serious problem with this series is the vast range of approaches taken by each writer and the utter lack of consistency from title to title. Some focus on factual background and commentary about the band more generally, and when and how the specific album came to be, often with much of that information sourced to interviews with those who were involved in making it (and not just the band) - which seems to me what the average reader might be looking for - while others are far more self-indulgent: either extended and pretentious reviews and personal analysis of the album or something far more tangential, like this one.
If you want to read an amateurish memoir by Colin Meloy, buy this book. If you want to read an insightful, professionally written book about Let It Be, do not buy this book.
In a typical passage, Meloy spends several pages describing how, in the 7th grade, he went out for the basketball team even though he didn't really want to, then got put on the B team only to be picked on by other players. Meanwhile, his buddy competed for a spot on the starting roster. He concludes with a single paragraph about crying in his room after basketball practice while listening to Unsatisfied.
That is how the entire book unfolds. Stuff happens to Colin Meloy and sometimes he listens to a song from Let It Be.
I bought this hoping to learn more about the Replacements and Let It Be, but it was 95 percent (or more) about Colin Meloy's adolescence, and poorly written to boot. All in all, it's a deeply annoying book.
I'm a big fan of the 33 1/3 series and love their aim to tackle a look at an album with whatever level of technical study or impressionism that the author feels is appropriate; however, this book seems ill-fit for the series with how little it touches on the band itself and really goes overboard into Colin Meloy's life. I can see this more fan service for Decemberists fans, but this is one of the shortest books in the series and with that has the lowest amount of interaction with the album itself, long stretches capture Meloy's childhood with details typical of a coming of age story without a real coming of age moment: just some moments flirting with the affects of music and how extravagant life is as a child. There is an excellent early moment in the book where he writes about the childish punk energy the album gives him and a friend who explode with the inclination to dance, mosh, and spray paint without a violence or destruction. It is the only great moment of the book with far too much of the rest meandering on disconnected stories before abruptly having a chapter looking back on the present and then a handful of sections fictionalizing a few moments between the member of The 'Mats themselves. Not enough insight into the album, bland insight into Colin himself, and a failure to convey the excitement that this album can bring, it is a truly wonderful album so full of life, love, and even the silliness of children ("Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out", "Gary's Got A Boner") that would have been so easy to cover with a look back at one's childhood being affected by the album, but somehow Meloy misses it. Not quite sure what he was aiming for with this one actually, or who he expected his audience to be; but this is clearly an early entry in the series written by a writer who (understandably) did not quite understand where the series was or would go. Which is too bad because there are very little written on The Replacements at this time.
This book is an engaging coming of age story about how a musically astute uncle introduces a young man to indie rock. Music helps young Colin Meloy deal with an awkward adolescence and discover his inner voice. Spoiler Alert, he goes on to front the Decemberists. The Replacements are mentioned a few times in the book and the last five pages pretty much tell you what already know from reading the Wikipedia entry. The book might as well have been written about Husker Du or Jesus and Mary Chain because they get as many mentions as the Replacements. Back in college if I had written a great paper that didn't really have anything to do with my title or premise, I think the professor would have given me a D. So if you are a big fan of The Decemberists this is the book for you. If you want to learn more about Paul, Bob, Tommy, Slim, Steve or Chris you might wanna look elsewhere.
This was my first 33 1/3, and not knowing what to expect, I enjoyed the prose and slice-of-life nature. After reading many more 33 1/3s, I'm pretty upset that the chance to collect all the stories of the forward motion that lead to this record. Sure there are plenty of other places to find it, including Our Band Could Be Your Life, but nothing tops the sweetness and conciseness of a well-written and well-researched 33 1/3. While this installment may have moments of the former, it is certainly not the latter.
I've read the other reviews and I noticed the poorer ones concerned the fact that this is not a typical 33 1/3 book -- it is mainly the coming-of-age musings of The Decemberists' singer/songwriter Colin Meloy and how "Let It Be" had a major influence on his life and music.
If you've never heard of Colin Meloy or The Decemberists, I must be honest and say you may not enjoy this book nearly as much as I did. Meloy is one of the best at what he does at the present moment, and this nostalgic book takes us back to his elementary school days in Montana where there were only two local record stores that mostly sold Top 40 music.
It's Meloy's uncle that first introduces the him to The Replacements, and the record (actually cassette) was soon to be the main soundtrack for his adolescent years. You won't find Meloy picking through each song and breaking down what Paul Westerburg was thinking or feeling when he wrote them. Meloy talks about how these songs affected HIM, and he sparingly quotes lyrics that were comforting to him at the time, an awkward pre-teen who shied away from mainstream music once he heard such bands as Depeche Mode, Robyn Hitchcock, Guadalcanal Diary, and many others. "Let It Be" spoke to Meloy in grand ways, enabling him to grow up with a sense that *someone else* out there knew exactly how he felt.
This book brought back so many memories of my own youth (Meloy is 4 years younger than me) - listening to bands like R.E.M. and The Smiths and how my friends would just stare at me when I talked about them and couldn't believe I wasn't into AC/DC or Judas Priest. Bands like The Replacements changed my life, much like Meloy, opening up a a broad spectrum of emotions and feelings that made me feel like I was perhaps just a little different from my friends, but in no way odd. "Let It Be" the album is the soundtrack for an entire disaffected generation of music listeners raised on Top 40 but who rebelled against it. This book is a perfect complement.
Yesterday, a box of (expected) goodies from Amazon.com came in the mail for me. I ripped it open with glee and my eyes fell upon Colin Meloy's book (above). About an hour later I had finished reading it and was off to The Decemberists message board (where I heard about it) to post my delight.
I don't know if you guys have heard of the 33 1/3 series... I had, but only vaguely. Basically its a series of short books written by artists about the most important album in their life- or something to that effect. Colin wrote about The Replacements' album "Let It Be."
It reminded me a bit of the Aerosmith autobiography "Walk This Way" in its narration and stylings... although MUCH shorter. It is a great, fun little read.
I'm sure many of you would also see the similarities between yourselves and Colin's touching and freshly honest account of childhood and music appreciation. From his discovery of bands, to first record purchases, its a story any true music fan can identify with. Like Colin, I too have a box of old cassette tapes under my bed... I used to make mix tapes religiously. I remember seeing the skater kids and wanting to be hardcore like that, but I just wasn't and couldn't swallow that fakeness of pretending to be.
Anyhow, if you're a real music fan or have an interest in getting to better know any of the specific people who wrote books for 33 1/3, its a GREAT series and I can't wait to read some more of them. If you're a Decemberists fan, you have to read Let It Be.
As someone who loves "Let It Be" and was quite the Decemberists fan, I was under the impression that this book might be a bit of a fun, yet brief read. And seeing that Mr. Meloy and his band's big premise is...well they really like books, I was also hoping that the actual language of the book might appear as if it was written by someone who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately for us all, Colin Meloy's little book is filled with empty details, vaguely uncomfortable childhood memories that ultimately go nowhere and dialog that falls so flat it appears to be have been written by a junior high student who thinks he's breaking new literary ground. None of the cast of characters in Meloy's childhood really ever begin to resemble real people and Meloy himself as the narrator/protagonist seems rather mindless. Which is a bit of a shame, seeing that only he could have written his own story. It seems like nobody ever really edited this book, or ever gave Mr. Meloy a single piece of advice when he set out to write this. His style simply lacks any sense of grace.
Something not factored into the book's rating, but is nonetheless frustrating is that Colin Meloy's journey into the world of indie rock happens at such a young age, which just seems to cast him as a somewhat snobish little indie twerp who loves the Smiths and hates Kiss and hey, he's only ten years old! You know, just the kind of kid you'd want to punch in face. But seeing that this is a non-fictional account of his childhood and the fact that Colin Meloy is largely affable and self-deprecating on stage in the present day it's a little hard to hate on him personally. But who knows, personally he may still be as insufferable as he appears in his book.
And although it's been mentioned in other reviews, buying this book if you happen to be a Replacements fan and perhaps have only have a passing interest in the Decemberists, you may be destined for disappointment.
In closing, I'll only buy the next Decemberists' album if it's said to have striking Dexy's Midnight Runners influence. Man, "The Hazards of Love" was an atrocious mess.