The context: A thrashy 1981 debut album and an even more aggressive 1982 EP established The Replacements as Minneapolis' premiere brat-punks, able to out-drink and out-rock anyone on the scene. But despite early stylistic departures like "Johnny's Gonna Die" and "Go," The Replacements hadn't really tried over their first three years of existence to capture on tape the full range of their musical interests, let alone the barely contained chaos of one of their covers-filled live shows. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Paul Westerberg was clearly a talent to watch even then, with his cutting wit and knack for classic rock hooks, but in 1983, The Replacements were bashers first and foremost.
The greatness: A disarming, deceptively loose record, Hootenanny sounds more like a rehearsal than a proper album, which is a large part of its charm. After opening with the collapsing title track—an obvious one-take wonder—Hootenanny staggers screeching hardcore punk workouts like "Run It" and "Hayday" with a handful of unexpected genre excursions like the roadhouse romp "Take Me Down To The Hospital," the moody surf instrumental "Buck Hill," the gorgeous synth-pop ballad "Within Your Reach," the improvised choogler "Lovelines," the snotty Beatles spoof "Mr. Whirly" and the boozy acoustic folk-punk anthem "Treatment Bound." Hootenanny brims with personality, and though The Replacements' real masterpieces were ahead of them, their second LP was a deck-clearer that gave Westerberg the confidence to mature. It's just too bad that he never again made an album this straight-up fun.
Defining song: In the early '80s, before the mainstream rock press covered alternative rock extensively, albums like Hootenanny appeared in record stores and on college radio with little to no hype or explanation, which made their moments of brilliance all the more surprising and delightful. Stuck in the middle of a collection of half-written slop-rock, "Color Me Impressed" provides a real "Jiminy God, what was that?" moment. From Westerberg's jaded scenester observations—half of which are aimed at himself—to the jumpy rhythm and eruptive guitar riff, "Color Me Impressed" proves that slack can be beautiful.