The Replacements

A Bunch Of Drunken Highschool Dropout Losers Form The World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band

Strongest album: Pleased To Meet Me
Weakest album: Hootenanny

They called themselves the Impediments and swiftly got banned from every club in the Twin Cities, so they changed their name to the "Replacements". Their first gig took place at a wayward home for recovering alcoholics - the irony. They pissed off punks by playing country tunes at hardcore fests. They drank more beer than your old redneck Uncle Jack and ingested more illegal chemicals than your aging hippie Uncle John. Sometimes they were too fucked up to finish their set, and the people they wound up fucking over the most were themselves. There's a hundred or so funny, scary, idiotic stories and legends surrounding them. Somehow they got it together enough to produce some of the greatest rock'n'roll the '80s, or any other decade, ever heard.

The cast:
Chris Mars, drummer and quiet-looking skinny guy who kept a steady beat and seemed like the straight man in comparison to the rest.
Bob Stinson, Yes-loving, cross-dressing, beer-guzzling, prematurely-balding lead guitarist who could bend scorching, searing guitar solos at whim, and whose years of drink'n'drugs caused his death in early 1995.
Tommy Stinson, 13-year-old bass player at the time of the band's first album, cute-boy idol of the chicks when he wasn't old enough to know better.
Paul Westerberg, ex-janitor rythm guitarist who learned all his licks from old Johnny Thunders records, a poet who acted like an asshole to hide his sensitive soul, the greatest songwriter of his generation.
The 'Mats indie label Twintone has a kinda skimpy website that links to the Skyway mailing list - if you're interested in reading some total stranger ramble on for two pages about the day he drove across Wisconsin and discovered the Replacements, rounded out with long-winded references to the history of his personal life, then by all means check out the Skyway archives. About 75% of the discussion on that mailing list is like that - you have been warned. A much better site is the Unofficial Paul Westerberg page, which contains a ton of articles and other goodies for those who still pay attention to his solo career.
Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (1981) ****

Sounding kinda like the New York Dolls on Old Milwaukee instead of horse, the 'Mats toss together a bunch of songs and a bunch of chords and try to make it to the finish line in tune and sober. Frustrated, Paul yells "I hate music/It's got too many notes". But hell, sloppy don't mean they can't play - if you really want sloppy, unlistenable thrashing, spend a Saturday night down at the local all-ages club for "hardcore punk, maaan!" They're sloppy in that they don't have good equipment and it sounds recorded in a basement, but other than that from what my ears tell me, these guys are good players who depreciate themselves too much, which is part of their charm. They consider themselves sloppy, you see, because they secretly want to be the Beatles, and according to that standard they're poor musicians. By punk standards Bob Stinson's a virtuoso - he's never played better guitar than here; his solos seem to fly out of control, as scorchingly toxic as his breath. The most amazing thing about this is that it all seems made up on the spot - the band doesn't seem to know what it's doing half the time, and does it right anyway! Paul in particular seems to be rattling stuff off the top of his head - "Hello, can I get change? Where's the twinkies? What's on sale? You sell waterbeds? I'm a customer!" Funny as hell, Ween and They Might Be Giants and whoever would kill for some of these lines - there's too many of'em for me to list, but let's just say I still crack up after hearing this 637+ times. And I bang my head, and do the air guitar, and the not-so-funky-shake.

Stink EP (1982) ****

Supposedly the guys wanted to play on the hardcore circuit, 'cause those were the only places that would give'em gigs, so they bashed this out in a couple of days even though they didn't like hardcore. Whatever, they blow away 9/10ths of the mohawks in California, even if they play too bluesy and rockabilly-illy (made that'un up myself) to be pure hardcore. I miss the looseness of the debut, but this is way better produced, all clean and buzzy. And guess what, it's even funnier, opening with greetings from the Minneapolis Police and following with an alternate alma mater "Fuck School". Complete lyrics of "Goddamn Job": "I need a goddamn job, I need a goddamn girl, GODDAMNIT!" "Gimme Noise" contains a couple of my favorite Paul lines: "I'll give my jacket/You give me your glamor/Gimme that racket/Gimme that clamor!". As four wise men decreed in long-since times, the kids are alright.

Hootenanny (1983) ***1/2

No more hardcore punk, they're stretching their horizons. Wish they were as consistent as they are adventurous, and though this is a step forward it's, cut-for-cut, their weakest album. The only undeniable rocker here is "Color Me Impressed", quoted 6 years later in the Wynona Rider black comedy Heathers, set at Westerberg High, to boot. Okay, okay, "Heyday" comes close with an unforgettably goofy "Hit it, Bo-ob" kicking the festivities off. Both of the songs are about parties where you don't belong, there's a connection somehow but I'm too lazy to care. You get some alright surf (ski, actually) "Buck Hill", and a synth-drum ballad "Within Your Reach" that blueprints Paul's later, more moving moments of sensitivity. "Willpower" gets downright moody, capturing the painful throes of addiction, which believe me these boys knew a lot about. "Lovelines" is a funny novelty number that has Paul reading from the classifieds, and "Treatment Bound" is even funnier, a basement throwaway that comes complete with a bottle solo and lines about being to bored to thrash, getting shit-faced drunk, and not giving a shit whether they get a hit (they actually use that rhyme). Most of the rest sounds pretty inept, with "Take Me To The Hospital" and the Beatles parody "Mr.Whirly" particular lows. Oh, I forgot about the title track, in which they all switch instruments, which only proves that Paul can't keep a beat, Bob shouldn't try to bass solo, and Tom and Chris are a great rythm section.

Let It Be (1984) *****

The breakthrough they'd been building up to, and one of the towering all-American classics of the '80s. The 'Mats have found the perfect garage, sloppy and dripping with grease stains in the quest for glory, girls, and guzzle. If any one album comes close to epitomizing rock'n'roll in all its loud and sodden imperfectibility, this is it. Proof that amidst the over-produced synth-blare of mainstream rock and poodle-haired (and poodle-headed) glam metal that constituted '80s airwaves, real rock'n'roll never really went away - it just went underground. You still get some crap like "We're Coming Out" and that stupid Kiss cover, but the great stuff is so great, and there's so much of it, who cares about the few-and-far-between low points? Not when Paul writes "Unsatisfied", the most nakedly vulnerable cry for help that I've ever heard anyone sing - Paul screams over and over, "I'm so, I'm so, unsatisfied." It takes guts to sing lines like that and not look like a fool. On side two Paul throws a couple more aching ballads, "Sixteen Blue" that tells it like it is, or was, to be a zit-faced loser ("Everything's sexually vague/And you wonder to yourself if you might be gay"), and "Answering Machine", which captures that late-night desperation that drives you to call somebody just for the sound of their voice, and you get their machine instead, and you don't want to leave a message because you don't have anything important to say, you just wanted to say hello, and you wind up more lonely and miserable than before. Paul lays his heart on the line and the world stomps all over it - ain't that life? Side One's more upbeat, starting with a churning folky bounce called "I Will Dare" that includes a sloppy solo by a certain Peter Buck, and a little ditty about Tommy getting his tonsils out ("Hey nurse, what're ya doin'? You know, after the operation?"), and a an amateur-piano piece celebrating androgony. It's "Favorite Thing" that gets me goin', though. Right in the middle, the guitars drop out and Paul moans, "You're my favorite thing/You're my favorite thing", and suddenly screams "But I'm nothing!" before a lashing Bob Stinson guitar solo. A great moment.

Tim (1985) *****

The major label debut with major label production, this could have been a slick bore but the 'Mats are so raw that any extra polish only intensifies their attack. Side One's hit-or-miss, and Side Two's one of the five or six greatest side twos in history. "Bastards Of Young" and "Left Of The Dial" are positively anthemic, a pair of their greatest rockers, and "Here Comes A Regular", the closing alcoholics' lament, may be their greatest ballad (I've always thought of it as the Cheers anti-theme). As for side one, "Kiss Me On The Bus" opens up romantic possibilities on public transport, and "Swingin' Party" dolorously sways a '50s slow-dance beat, with the lines "On the prairie pavement/Losing proposition/Quittin' school and going to work and never going fishing" particularly moving to me for some reason. I saw an interview with the lovely Miss Winona Ryder in which they asked what she'd do in the last hour before the earth ended, or something stupid like that. Anyway, she said that she'd have Paul Westerberg play her "Waitress In The Sky" for her on acoustic guitar, and dedicate it to her, and then kiss her afterwards. Lady's got good taste. Any other attractive, single, 20-something straight female 'Mats fans out there? Meet me anyplace, anywhere, anytime....If you dare meet me tonight, I will dare.

P.S. Okay, I admit it - that last bit was just a cheap ploy to work in "I Will Dare" lyrics. Using the net as a personal ad is kinda creepy and cheesy. I prefer to meet people the old fashioned way, you know in person. Just so ya don't get me wrong.

P.P.S. J.D., if you need a fishing partner, please let me know.

Pleased To Meet Me (1987) *****

My story: I discovered the 'Mats in early '88 after being turned on a few months earlier by this great new band I heard on the radio called R.E.M. I also read that great "America's Best Band" cover article on R.E.M. in Rolling Stone (back when it was a halfway-decent read), cut to the chase, I discovered this entire universe of alternative rock that I had been unaware of most of my 14 years. So I dove in with my paper-route money and checked out the Clash and Husker Du and Camper Van Beethoven and some other bands. Dearest to my heart were the Replacements, and for about six years or so the first album I bought by them I believed to be the greatest album of all time, period. The instant I heard this all the way through I knew this was the band for me, that I would follow them to the ends of the earth and buy their entire back catalog. I only found out years later who "Alex Chilton" and Big Star were - I thought he was some old Memphis bluesman! And it still took me 934 listens to figure out that Paul was talking about trading rare Kinks albums - "Exchanging Good Lucks, Face To Face". So you've got the holy trinity, the greatest band of the '80s singing about the greatest band of the '70s with a link to the greatest band of the '60s! Or, if not the greatest, the most certainly underrated! Producer Jim Dickinson gives the 'Mats a powerful rock sound in contrast to the previous album's thinness, making "I.O.U.", "Red Red Wine", and "Shooting Dirty Pool" positively scorching, you'll jump and down and bang your head and holler and just make a damn fool of yerself. Kurt Cobain lifted a turn of phrase and downcast desperate melancholy from "Nevermind", if not the first-person suicide study "The Ledge". "I Don't Know" possesses nagging horns punctuating Paul's sarcastic sneer, indecisively answering "Whatcha you gonna do with your life?" with "Nuthin'". Everything you need is here, including a couple of great ballads, the after-hours "Nightclub Jitters" and the acoustic "Skyway", about downtown Minneapolis' most unusual feature.

Don't Tell A Soul (1989) ***1/2

A major dissappointment, it possesses little of the rock excitement of the 'Mats previous ventures. With Bob Stinson long gone - he'd been fired for excessive behavior after Tim - the band calls in replacement Slim Dunlap, an adequate but journeyman guitarist, and generally tries to tone things down. Growing up is hard to do, and while you can't stay young and wild forever, it's hard not to hear their later work without a pang of resentment. Maturity seems to contradict everything the 'Mats are (were) about. However, unlike a lot of folks I don't let that resentment get in the way of hearing this music on its own terms. And on its own terms, much of this is excellent. There's plenty of banality, too - "Rock'n'Roll Ghost"; "I Won't" an inexplicably embarrassing attempt to rock out - but if this had been, say, a debut by some unknowns, it'd be hailed as a masterpiece. Which isn't quite an unreserved compliment, considering the way new bands get overrated these days. The slick production is the main problem - frankly, it smothers the band; "Back To Back" could be Richard Marx, for cryin' out loud! However, "We'll Inherit The Earth" ("but we don't want it") overcomes this problem with a surging chorus, and "I'll Be You" with a ringing guitar solo in the middle, which cuts through like a knife through cheese. "I'll Be You" also has some of my favorite Paul lines: "If it's a temporary lull/Why am I bored right outta my skull/And I'm dressin' sharp and feelin' dull". And the ballads that close side one, "Achin' To Be" and "They're Blind" are as strong as anything Paul's done in the past.

All Shook Down (1990) ****

A big improvement over the previous album, this was going to be released as solo Paul Westerberg but the record company wanted more Replacements, so we get the technically last Replacements album. Almost completely dominated by downcast ballads, this is a singer-songwriter presentation rather than a band effort. The production is clean and crisp rather than slick and overproduced, and the overall effect feels like a rainy MidWestern day stuck in a middle-of-nowhere trailer park. The perfect album for those times when you're feeling lonely and sorry for yourself. Paul's memories reach back to childhood in "Merry Go-Round" and the haunting tranquillity of "Sadly Beautiful". He wishes an ex a happy marriage in "Nobody" and promises not to tell anyone that she's not really in love. He even tries to give up booze in "The Last", and recalls the early days with a tinge of nostalgia in "Happy Town" and "When It Began". The rocker "My Little Problem" embarrasses, but "Bent Out Of Shape" scorches. Spare and melancholy, All Shook Down is a good mood piece and more interesting than the early thrashing.

Solo Albums
Bash & Pop: Friday Night Is Killing Me (1993) ***

Every member of the 'Mats except for the late Bob Stinson have released credible solo albums after the 1990 breakup, of which the high quality of most is a pleasant surprise. Tommy Stinson formed Bash & Pop, who sound like the 'Mats Faces-influenced side. The album's sabatoged by poor production that makes the band sound like they're poking through cardboard, but their bar-band enthusiasm carries it over some of the rough spots. Tommy shows that hanging around Paul has rubbed off on him as a songwriter in all the right ways, though his self-pity can prove a bit wearisome. The rocker "Fast'n'Hard" is as exciting as anything the 'Mats did, and the ballad "First Steps" is quite moving. It's quite inconsistent, and the band doesn't quite succeed in overcoming its limitations, but it shows a lot of promise nevertheless.

Chris Mars: Horseshoes And Hand Grenades (1992) **1/2

Chris Mars got the first word in by releasing the first ex-Replacements solo album in 1992. Mars proves that he's a talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who should never, ever approach the microphone to sing. His frog-like croak makes this rough going, and the played-all-the-instruments-myself approach keeps the musical backing pretty limited, rudimentary in fact. Only "Popular Creeps", about his old band, rises above the presentation with a searing chorus. And with 14 songs, it's too long for someone of Mars' talents - it all starts to sound the same after a while. Mars released a couple of other albums after this that sound exactly like this one.

Paul Westerberg: 14 Songs (1993) ****

The solo debut that everyone was looking forward to, the Replacements' leader and songwriter proves that he still likes to rock'n'roll and not just sing ballads like he did on the last two albums. Eclectic's the name of the game here, and Paul's all over the place - there's no real classics that compare to the Replacements' finest moments, but there's so much variety it's consistently entertaining. And hey, Paul still blows away any other still-producing songwriter on the planet. "World Class Fad" rocks tough and bitchy, with Paul warning would-be rock stars to take it easy and don't forget where you came from - "You wax poetic about things pathetic/As long as you look so cute". I guess it's hard for Paul not to get jealous after a gaggle of grungestars reap the rewards of a sound he patented. "Someone I Once Knew" possesses a snappy-catchy chorus and a charmingly shoddy sax solo. Of the ballads, "First Glimmer" proves that Paul can write quirky love songs better than anybody. His best set of songs since Pleased To Meet Me.

Paul Westerberg: Eventually (1996) ***1/2

Oh, how fickle (and hypocritical) can the critics be! While his peers R.E.M. and U2 release shitty rip-offs and get four-star raves in every major publication, Paul releases good material that doesn't coast on his glory days and gets slammed as a has-been. What's the world coming to? Expecting a pushing-40 Paul to act like a drunken 20-year-old is ridiculous - this folky pop is what we're going to have to learn to expect from him. And it's not bad. Some it's quite good, actually, if nowhere near as exciting as the 'Mats glory days. There's nothing wrong with a good singer-songwriter album, and if he were an up-and-coming hermit releasing this on a four-track from the wilds of mid-America, he'd get raves. Maybe Paul should claim to be an ex-member of Uncle Tupelo, that'll guarantee positive attention. Whatever, Paul largely avoids the extremes of 14 Songs for a more consistent sonic approach. Most of this is very catchy and quite melodic, and the songs that don't quite work are still alright (except for the overwrought early-U2 guitar of "Angels Walk"). "These Are The Days", "Love Untold", "Ain't Got Me" (choice lines: "You cream with dreams of computer chips/Give me tambourines, a pair of shaking hips"), and the eerie ballad "Hide and Seeking" are all highlights. I am a bit disturbed by the banal Hallmark sentiments of "Good Day", however - surely Paul could have written a better eulogy to Bob Stinson, who died in 1995.

Granpaboy EP (1997) **1/2

Between record labels, Paul Westerberg delivers an off-the-cuff indie single and EP to take advantage of the situation. Those expecting a hootin'n'hollerin' return to rowdiness are rewarded, and disappointed. It seems that the now-mature Paul just isn't that interesting in his hell-raisin' mode - a bit, um, boring in fact. And the sloppiness of the music doesn't really amount to anything more than sloppy. I guess "Hot Un" concerns Gwen Stefani of No Doubt ("see that girl on that belly-button, she's a hot un"). "Homelessexual" is a bad one-line joke. The ballad he throws on feels half-written - please don't release demos on legitimate releases, Paul, it's bad form. Only "Psychopharmocology" sounds about right, possessing a catchy chorus and clever little lines even if the target's an easy cliche. Otherwise, this 5-song EP is the first truly expendable record of Paul's career. Docked a notch for being a 5-song EP sold at CD EP price, which means it costs too much for too little.

Paul Westerberg: Suicaine Gratification (1999) ***

If his previous two solo albums sounded half-hearted at times, as if Westerberg were going through the motions to please what audience he had left, then this sounds like the album he's wanted to make all along. It's something of a return to All Shook Down, with roughly half of the tracks consisting of downbeat balladry. Unfortunately, Westerberg's plaints have grown so insular and private that except for the lead off track, "It's a Wonderful Lie," that might be the best song he's written in his solo career, the ballads are highly emotional in a pleasantly understated manner, but curiously unaffecting. Obviously Westerberg meant these songs for himself, not his listeners, and the same holds for rest of the record. His heart's still on his sleeve, he's still trying to be clever about it ("Tears Rolling Up Our Sleeves"), and he still offhandedly mentions suicide on at least one song per album. He sounds like he's on the verge of a crack up in places ("Sunrise Always Listens"), which is worrisome - judging from the contents, Westerberg's mental health isn't in the best of shape. The snappy upbeat folk-pop numbers are better, and continue Westerberg's reputation as a top-rate songwriter, particularly "Whatever Makes You Happy," and "Best Thing That Never Happened." The lone rocker, "Lookin' Out Forever," builds up to the tortured climax: "God only knows/Mama, I'm coming home," that works as well as anything he's done in the past as a glimpse into a troubled soul. Westerberg appears to be happily settled into his depression, if that contradiction makes any sense.

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