If R.E.M. were The Beatles of the American underground in the 1980s, The Replacements were its Rolling Stones. Some point to "Let It Be" - the title's deliberate lift attempted to show how the band regarded nothing in the history of rock 'n' roll as sacred, and seriously toyed with the idea of following it up with an album called "Let It Bleed" - as the finest of their seven-and-a-half albums. Rolling Stone even claimed it to be the 15th best album of its decade. Unfortunately such praise suggests to me that The Placemats never really fashioned a wholly convincing album, because, whilst "Let It Be" demonstrates occasional, blinding flashes of greatness it lags some way behind the excellence of frontman Paul Westerberg's recent solo effort "Stereo".

Juvenilia such as "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and "Gary's Got A Boner" almost gets lost in the album's buzzy punk thrash, although not quite, and "We're Comin' Out" seems less a song and more an excuse for guitarist Bob Stinson to unleash his full torrent of anti-technique. A cover of Kiss' "Black Diamond" is more unexpected than enjoyable, and Peter Buck's guest appearance is the most remarkable thing about "I Will Dare", although the Westerberg's throaty but thin, world-weary voice sounds surprisingly akin to the young Rod Stewart's. But on the other hand, "Unsatisfied" is utterly glorious, racked by acoustic guitars and squirming with bruised, hoarse emotion. It sounds like an unashamed tribute to Westerberg's hero Alex Chilton, magically summoning up the spirit of all three Big Star albums simultaneously. Closer "Answering Machine" is very fine too, a plaintive growl of miscommunication: "How do you say goodnight to an answering machine?".

For a recently-minted reissue "Let It Be" is light on the usual expected quota of sleevenotes and extra tracks, rumour suggesting that such largesse has been saved for a forthcoming Replacements box set. Intermittently enjoyable as "Let It Be" is, it might be better for the uninitiated to wait for the band to receive the kind of repackaging their legend suggests they deserve.

Paul Westerberg