Saturday, November 01, 2008

Hey, We're The Replacements

The Replacements never saved my life. They didn't really open up a new whole world of music to me. To the extent my musical mindset was largely shaped during my mid-80s college dj days, it was largely the early albums of R.E.M. -- Murmur, Reckoning, the initial Chronic Town EP -- that I hold responsible. But the 'Mats (perhaps alongside, say, Sonic Youth and my 15-years-late discovery of Big Star) were strong contenders for second place. 1984's Let It Be wasn't life-changing... it was merely riveting. Great rock & roll, fun and rebellious and loud. I imagine that if I'd been born 20 years earlier, the Beatles would have been the band that drove my late-teen/early-adult lifelong love of music, and the Stones would have been what I turned to when I just wanted to rock. Instead, I had R.E.M. and the Replacements. (Not sure where exactly the Who and the Kinks fit into that analogy... maybe they would have been my Sonic Youth and Husker Du, or something like that.)

In any event, as the past two decades wore on, with the Mats long relegated to the dustbin of history (albeit with Westerberg carrying on with a solo career that never resonated with me the way his old band did), my time with the band's old work ebbed and flowed. (In contrast, R.E.M. is never far from my stereo.) Fortunately, the rerelease of the band's back-catalog this year (with the early Twin-Tone albums released last Spring and the later Sire albums coming out a few weeks ago) gave me an opportunity to reconnect with the band. Not surprisingly, my two best-loved Mats albums sound every bit as wonderful today as they did back in 84-85. Let It Be, their final indie release on Twin-Tone, was the work of a band evolving from a reckless, thrashing hardcore/punk-inspired band to a more mature band with a sublimely gifted songwriter at the helm, rough in places but surprisingly polished in others (most notably the timeless pop of "I Will Dare," the updated "Satisfaction"-themed young angst of "Unsatisfied," the powerful post-punk straightforward rock of "Favorite Thing," and the beautiful balladry of "Sixteen Blue"). And 1985's Tim, their major-label debut, saw the band taking a step forward in consistently strong songwriting, increasingly radio-friendly but still edgy, particularly on "Bastards of Young," "Left of the Dial," and "Little Mascara," perhaps three of the most well-written yet still-rocking college radio songs of the decade.

I'm less partial to the albums that preceded Let It Be, though they had their moments ("Shiftless in Idle" from the debut already showing Westerberg's remarkable lyrical gifts). In contrast, while I recognize the weaknesses of the post-Time albums, particularly their increasingly staid sound in a bid for mainstream acceptance, unlike some longtime Mats fans I think Westerberg continued to churn out a handful of timeless tracks per album right up until the end. (Though this wasn't enough to inspire me to pick up the reissues of the last two albums; my original copies are just fine, thanks.)

In terms of the reissues themselves -- a fair number of bonus tracks per release, of mixed quality (though having an official version of the solo acoustic b-side "If Only You Were Lonely," available on the debut, is alone worth the repurchase); the sound is cleaner than the originals, if a bit shrill in spots (a recurring problem with remasters), and, unfortunately, can't really fix the production deficits on the otherwise wonderful Tim (i.e. drums that sound like wet lasagna noodles slapped against the drum heads).

I ended up tossing together a 2-cd Replacements mix, pretty much all the Mats I'll ever need. As noted above, I've never quite felt connected with Westerberg's solo work (though there are some bright spots to be found), and thus only included a single solo track, plus a couple new "Replacements" tracks (really just Paul & Tommy) from last year's greatest hits package. It came out like this:

Now, how about that timeless anti-video for "Bastards of Young"?


At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the best thing about the replacmatz...was getting drunk with them at the CC CLUB


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