Thursday, June 25, 2020

Certain Songs #1852: The Replacements – “Shiftless When Idle” | Medialoper

Album: Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash
Year: 1981

. . .

I ain’t got no idols

Of course, after writing a long song about one of his idols, in the very next song Paul Westerberg denies having such a vulgar thing as an idol. Because that’s just how he rolls.

And speaking of contradictions, “Shiftless When Idle” is one of the poppiest songs on Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, but at the same time, it sounds like like it was recorded inside of a portable AM radio at the bottom of a garbage can.

And that’s overstating the fidelity. Which is basically because it was one of the original studio demos they recorded live to two-track prior to the official recording of the album, so shut up already about it, Jim. And besides, it’s an awesome performance, kicking off with a quick roll from Chris Mars, a rattling rhythm guitar from Paul and a Bob lead recorded over a transatlantic phone line:

Oh, everybody that’s on my block
They’re tired, of me, that ain’t no shock

After each line, Mars leads the whole band into a cool wham-wham…wham wham, and then, after the second line, “Shiftless When Idle,” somehow launches into an even higher gear, with Tommy Stinson in the lead — his bass sounds like it was the only instrument recorded properly — tossing out hook after hook while Paul sings the chorus.

And I ain’t got no idols
I ain’t got much taste
I’m shiftless when I’m idle
And I got time to waste, yeah

In the liner notes for Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash Paul refers to “Shiftless When Idle” this way:
Title – Good
Song – Kinda

But every time they roar into that chorus, it doesn’t matter, it’s just that great, especially the homonyming of “idol” and “idle,” which is only done once, and just tossed away.

Also great: the back half of the song, which starts off with a ferocious Mars double-time where Paul sings “nah nah nah nah nah nah,” followed by a (relatively) fallow part where Paul kinda imitates Bob’s lead guitar like he’s Robert Plant or some shit, and then screams “I thought so” just as Bob’s guitar explodes into a thousand pieces only to have Tommy’s bass put it all back together just in time for Paul to scream:

I’m shiftless when I’m iiidllllee
I’m shiftless when I’mm iiiidllle
I’m shiftlesssseessss
I’m shiftless

It’s kinda funny how a song about idleness has this much forward momentum. And you can see why they didn’t re-record it, because it’s a lighting storm in a bottle. That said, I could imagine wondering what this kind of song — which goes about a million places in a little over two minutes while being melodic enough for you to be singing hours later — would sound like if it was just cleaned up a little. Not a lot, but just a little. In a couple years, people would find out.

“Shiftless When Idle”

“Shiftless When Idle” live at Riot Fest, 2013

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