If the Young Fresh Fellows had been paid a quarter every time they were compared to the Replacements (which happened even before Paul Westerberg began name-checking them as one of his favorite bands), they probably could have bought a beer for everyone who owned The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest. But while the Replacements loved sloppy hard rock and liked to play dumb (or at least dumber than they really were), the Fellows' tastes ran more towards revved-up pop, and their sense of humor struck a near-perfect balance between clever and goofiness. The Men Who Loved Music is one of the band's finest albums, and certainly their most purely enjoyable; by the time the Fellows made their third album, they'd grown enough as musicians to sound tight and versatile without getting self-conscious about it, and their record-making skills had grown by leaps and bounds over their debut. And while nearly every song on The Men Who Loved Music is centered around some kind of joke, the jokes are actually funny (and bear repeated listening) — there's no getting to the bottom of the cathode ray nightmare of "TV Dream," the clueless nerds of "When the Girls Get Here" are charming in their social ineptitude ("when the girls get here/we'll talk about integrated circuits and things/to show 'em how smart we are!"), "Amy Grant" has the good sense to play for absurdity more than nastiness (even as Grant receives career advise from God and indulges in dirty thoughts about Barry White), and "Hank, Karen, and Elvis" says more about America's obsession with celebrity than most serious songs on the subject. Best of all, take the laughs away from The Men Who Loved Music and you've still got a great record; the wah-wah fueled "Amy Grant" really does cut the funk, "Get Outta My Cave" boats credible hard rock crunch, the rollicking "Unimaginable Zero Summer" beautifully merges tightness and slop (with NRBQ's Terry Adams adding appropriate piano), and "Where the Hell Did They Go?" rocks with palpable joy, despite it's sad subject matter. A gem of an album, and the CD version guilds the lily with the seven-cut Refreshments EP, which includes their editorial on the joys of corporate sponsorship, "Beer Money." -AMG
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