For a period of a few years, the Replacements were capable of seamlessly tossing together elements of punk rock, heavy metal, rockabilly, folk, country, and Brill Building/Tin Pan Alley-style pop -- all on the same album, sometimes even tying a slew of such influences together in one song. They were sort of an NRBQ for a new generation, a bar band taking in and digesting as many forms of American pop music as they could. Rarely did the band feel self-conscious; in fact, they were usually a bit too uninhibited and loose for mainstream tastes.
From the band's excellent Tim (1985) LP, "Swinging Party" continues in the Replacements' habit of mixing up the traditional with the contemporary. It is a breezy ballad with a climbing-scale melody reminiscent of "Something Stupid," of all things, the duet made famous by Frank and Nancy Sinatra. "Swinging Party" is based around a kind of country-ish, early rock & roll groove that Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, or Ricky Nelson might have worked. With a warts-and-all approach to the performance and production, the Replacements save the song from sounding like pastiche or overly retro. If anything, the band sounds more like such English pub-rockers and early new-wavers as Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe, by tackling a 1950s/'60s-style ballad with an attitude that is at once earnest and irreverent. Tommy Erdelyi's production includes such obvious nods to early rock & roll as a slap-back tape-echo on Bob Stinson's staccato electric-guitar chords and Duane Eddy-like twangy guitar solo, but he also keeps in a few dissonant moments and does little to dull the Replacements' notorious raw edge. The Replacements would tackle such traditional pop styles in almost the same way the Pogues took on traditional Celtic music.
Paul Westerberg's lyrics offers a 180-degree, self-deprecating twist on the traditional love ballad, the sort that would offer burning pledges of love and worthiness. Westerberg's narrator is the same type of insecure and scared boy-man, the hopeless failure who readily accepts his limitations, that he features in many of his songs: "If being wrong's a crime, I'm serving forever/If being strong's your kind, then I need help here with this feather/If being afraid is a crime, we hang side-by-side/At the swinging party down the line." He sings such ironic and tragi-comic lines as "Bring your own lampshades/Somewhere there's a party/Here it's never-ending/Can't remember when it started" with a quiver in his voice, like nervous laughter. With the impending firing of the troubled Bob Stinson, the Replacements -- and Westerberg in particular -- were moving on from their personas as lovable drunks, an image that was becoming increasingly less charming. As with another ballad on Tim, "Here Comes a Regular," Westerberg turns an incisive eye on himself and his enabling gang, does not like what he sees, and decides to sober up (well, maybe not right away, but soon) and try to grow up. While airing his growing pains, in the process he turns in some of the best songwriting of his generation.