The Replacements - The Last
Final track from “All Shook Down” (1990)
“The Last” isn’t the best song to ever close a Replacements album, but it’s the one that takes its responsibilities as album closer most seriously. If “Here Comes a Regular,” “Answering Machine,” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” concern themselves with simply being the best songs they can be, “The Last” takes the final sip from the post-last call glass, swishes it around, considers the taste of finality, and pays the bill. Then it looks over its shoulder and wonders if there will be another last call tomorrow.
Barroom analogies are virtually unavoidable with “The Last.” As former ‘Mats manager Peter Jesperson puts it in the deluxe edition liner notes to All Shook Down, the song is “an almost Sinatra-esque farewell that confronts all sorts of demons head-on.” Indeed, despite the fact that there’s nary a mention of drinking until the final verse, the piano-heavy arrangement and contemplative swing are a giveaway that this is Paul Westerberg’s answer to classic tavern downers like “One For My Baby (and One More for the Road).” The difference is that he’s not talking to poor, burdened Joe the bartender; he’s only talking to himself.
It’s the familiar combination of barroom setting and fretting about lost love that provides the room to explore psyche, the vicious circles we find ourselves in, and language in ways that old Frank never did. ”Does it hurt to fall in love so easy?” Westerberg asks. “Does it hurt to fall in love so fast?” But no matter how easy or fast a beginning might be, it’s the endings that get complicated. Throughout the song, Westerberg constantly reframes his commitment to not starting another relationship he can’t bear to finish—there are gentle suggestions to himself (“I guess I would tell you / Cause I don’t want to ask / That this one be your last”), self-ridicule for his efforts (“Oh, are you too proud to ask? / Is it such a big task? / Remember last one was your last?”) and finally making entreaties to a higher power (“You been swearing to God / Now maybe if you’d ask / That this one be your last”).
If this last approach reminds you of support group talk, it’s probably by design—for all its resemblance to those standards from the barstool, “The Last” doesn’t suggest drinking as panacea, but as another thing to quit. The bit about God directly follows “So you have another drink / and get down on your knees,” and it’s not clear whether Westerberg wants holy intervention more for his drinking or for his heartache.
But amidst all of the endings and difficulties implied by the song and circumstances under which Westerberg wrote it (he was breaking up with his first wife, sobering up, and about to pull the plug on his band), he gives “The Last” a cautiously optimistic kick through some classically Westerbergian wordplay.
This one’s your last chance
To make this last one really the last.
Gonna last for always
It’s gotta last for always.
In preparation for the chord change on the outro, he phrases that second line as “To make this last one really … the last?” His mantra-like answer to his own question comes in a shift from adjective to verb. When it’s time to give up drinking for good*, that final savoured drop has “gotta last for always.” And why linger on the relationship that inspired all of this swearing off, when you can make the relationship that’s just begun into one that might “last for always.”**
“The Last” is as musically unlikely a choice for the last song on the final Replacements album as it is a thematically apt one. Through the artful manipulation of a single word, Westerberg confronts the drunken mythology of the band, announces the end of it, and tentatively eyes up the possibility of new, long-lasting romance.
*It wasn’t for Westerberg, exactly, but he appears to have things under control these days.
**Westerberg remarried a few years later, and this marriage seems to have stuck.
— Dave Bloom
(Dave previously wrote for OWOB about Jeff Buckley)
Did a little year-end writing for OWOB (which is running a special feature on closing tracks this week), but you already knew that, since you’re an educated, intelligent music listener who follows OWOB, right? Right?