Opening with the "Maggie May"-like jangle of a 12-string acoustic guitar, "Unsatisfied" soon loses a bit of its folk lilt. A reverberating electric slide guitar swoops up, and the band kicks in. But it is Replacements leader Paul Westerberg's impassioned howls, his ragged voice delivered fill-tilt from the get-go, that takes a Rod Stewart-like, warm and seasoned rasp to a howling punk folk-rock extreme.
Even with the volume pedal work of guitarist Bob Stinson offering plaintive, steel guitar-like wails with the slide, the chiming textures and melancholy chord progression can not keep Westerberg's frustration in check. It is a bit of a twist on the usual Replacements dynamic; where the singer's sweet melodies and intelligent lyrics were usually juxtaposed against a loose-cannon rhythm section and a caterwauling electric guitar or three, on "Unsatisfied" Westerberg is the one ranting and raving while the band keeps it pretty much contained. It is yet another pretty melody, but Westerberg realizes that these lyrics can not simply be delivered, they must be acted and lived.
Not far into the arrangement, from Let It Be (1984), the singer is screaming, "Look me in the eye and then tell me/That I'm satisfied/Are you satisfied?...I'm so, I'm so unsatisfied." This is not a cheeky, winking Mick Jagger coyingly bemoaning his lack of "girly action." Rather, this is the sound of a man venting pent-up rage and frustration from his very depths, dismayed by the state of his relationships and his life in general. He sounds stymied and helpless. The song became an anthem for a large segment of a generation, a disaffected group of young adults -- caught in the depth of the dark Reagan years -- who felt lost and unable to figure out why or how to change. Westerberg simmers on the verses, "Everything goes/Well, anything goes/All of the time/Everything you dream of/Is right in front of you/And everything is a lie." The target is not clearly defined; though it begins in the microcosmic world of a personal relationship, Westerberg represents many when he seems overwhelmed by larger cultural and societal trends: a lack of integrity, sincerity, compassion, and so on.
The song is almost all chorus, the refrain a mantra for the narrator, as if merely repeating the primal-scream complaint will help alleviate some of his suffering. He rails continuously on the chorus lines, taking only two breathers for the relatively calm country-rock (perhaps a bit of Tom Petty influence) verses. The acoustic and hard-edged electric guitar combination takes a classic rock configuration and keeps it alive for a post-punk generation. The band shows ambition to texture and layer their arrangements. The production straddles rootsy pop and punk rock, and along with the nakedly aching emotional lyrical content, influenced a generation of bands to follow in the Replacements' wake.