life without Westerberg

Horseshoes & Handgrenades (Smash/PLG)
Chris Mars

By William Brents

When I heard the stinging news that drummer Chris Mars had left, or more accurately got forced out, of the Replacements, I remember thinking, "poor Chris. His musical is career is dead in the water." Right? Well, not by a long shot.

His unexpected solo debut Horseshoes & Handgrenades is a semi-power pop sleeper littered with indelible numbers. "Reverse Status," "Midnight Carnival" and I, Me We, Us, Them" are all proof positive that Westerberg wasn't the only Mat' that could muster up solid and unpretentious material. The energetic "Popular Creeps" expresses his rather unfavorable opinion of his former bandmates ("Just around the corner, there they are again/Legends in the minds of those around/If they try to slap us with their ego size/Gather up the clowns and cut 'em down").

With the exception of J.D. Foster on bass (The Silos, Vulgar Boatmen) and guest guitarists Dave Pirnar and Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum, Mars carries the bulk of the load. Known more for his steady drumming than his guitar strumming, Mars does (however rudimentarily) make an impression by using concise and tasteful licks.

Not surprisingly, the music evokes the Replacements' style -- a mixture of fiery rockers and sweet pop ballads -- although not as tuneful in spots. Mars only sang backup for the Replacements, so his lead vocal ability was a mystery coming in. It didn't take Mars very long to reveal his deep, subdued vocals, which compliments his songs very nicely. On the other hand, his limited singing became a bit stale near the end of the record. But what the heck -- we all can't be blessed with a vocal range like Bono's.

Above all, Horseshoes & Handgrenades makes a singular statement that Mars is a capable and credible solo artist who can dismiss the cloudy past and look forward to a very bright future.