Not many people in rock and roll have as storied a past and as dramatic a career as Tommy Stinson. For starters, Tommy was a founding member of the über-influential band the Replacements at the age of thirteen! Check it again, do the math. Tommy was born in ’66 and the band formed in ’79. Not only that, he had to play an integral part in the firing of his older brother Bob from the band due to alcohol and drug addiction and also his resistance to go into a mainstream direction. Deal with that, Gallagher brothers! Setting aside the hypocrisy of a partying band from firing Bob (it’s kinda like firing a pornstar for acquiring an STD), after the increasing commercialism of the music led to Paul Westerberg’s solo career, brother Bob died at the age of 35. Tommy formed his own bands upon the demise of the `Mats, first Bash and Pop, and later Perfect. Today he is better known for backing up P. Diddy on the “All About the Benjamins” remix and for being the `replacement’ bass player for the new incarnation of Guns `n’ Roses. Whoa.
So you’d think it’d be just about time for Tommy to go it on his own and release a solo record, right? Right. Village Gorilla Head marks the first solo outing, five years in the making, of the legendary Minneapolis musician who usually played in the shadows. Bob was the showman, Tommy bouncing with his bass and enjoying the ride. Not so anymore. Tommy puts his songwriting, playing, and singing skills front and center and we’re the luckier for it.
It would be wise to take note that even though he was quite young when he started, he was an excellent student of music. Not only has he learned from his influences, but also his bandmates. Echoes of Paul Westerberg abound on the album alongside hints of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Big Star, and Cheap Trick. Opener “Without a View” definitely starts out with an eerie Paul Westerberg feel and at times also resembles later mellower Filter works. “Not a Moment Too Soon” is akin to both Ryan Adams and Pete Yorn. While some might claim that Tommy has mellowed, I say that Tommy has grown up and shown what a mature songwriter can really do. The songs on the album are smart, strong, and polished.
“Something’s Wrong” channels brother Bob’s Replacements guitar playing and Bob Dylan’s nasally intonations. It’s quite a contrast but Tommy makes it work. Tommy admits that he thought of his brother while recording the album. “I try to think like Bob when I write second guitar parts. He had a very `left’ way of playing that will always influence my music.” He was speaking specifically of rocking song “Couldn’t Wait” which has some of the best guitar parts on the album. Tommy learned well.
Tommy also proves he’s an accomplished lyricist with equal parts optimism and pessimism. Take these lines from “Light of Day,” “Hey You,” “Without a View” and “Someday” respectively:
“Some nights it feels like the moon is just a light above our graves”
“We’re dyin of thirst our voice is lost from all this screaming”
“There’s gotta be a better view”
“Someday something of use will come of the blood and the blues of this wasted youth something of use will come”
“Light of Day” and “Hey You” are beautifully written and mixed ballads that again invoke Bob Dylan at times. In the hands of executive producer and mixer Sean Beavan (Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, No Doubt, etc), Tommy’s music becomes near perfection. There are truly no throwaway songs or skippable tracks on Village Gorilla Head. It is a step in the right direction for this `still looks young’ rocker. (Compare the inset photo in VGH to the cover of Let it Be. You’ll be amazed. The album closes with hard rocking Stooges-esque “Motivation” and the hopeful “Someday,” complete with soft female backup vocals.
Village Gorilla Head is an album that I fear will get lost amongst the shuffle of independent music. I fear that people will be expecting a Replacements rehash, something a little more punk, or maybe even a little GnR. Instead, Tommy Stinson has released a wonderful pop rock record that is at once enjoyable and accomplished. In the liner notes of the Replacements’ compilation record, All For Nothing, Jim Dickinson, the producer of Pleased to Meet Me had this to say about Tommy: “I want to say this about Tommy: Some people say that Keith Richards is the embodiment of rock and roll. Well, I know `em both and I say it’s Tommy Stinson. Keith is a cowboy, he goes back to Gene Autry. Tommy—he goes back to Johnny Thunders. Tommy Stinson is rock and roll.” Amen.
Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker
Pete Yorn- Day I Forgot
The Replacements- Tim