The Replacements

     Sorry, Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (Twin/Tone, 1981)
      Stink (Twin/Tone, 1982)
     Hootenanny (Twin/Tone, 1983)
      Let It Be (Twin/Tone, 1984)
    The Shit Hits the Fans (Twin/Tone, 1985)
      Tim (Sire, 1985)
     Boink! (Glass U.K., 1986)
     Pleased to Meet Me (Sire, 1987)
   Don't Tell a Soul (Sire, 1989)
   All Shook Down (Sire, 1990)
    All for Nothing/Nothing for All (Reprise, 1997)
     Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? (Sire/Reprise/Rhino, 2006)

The Replacements were one of the all-time great American garage bands, a freewheeling mess of four Minnesota punk rockers who knew how to turn dead-end adolescent malaise into a grand joke. They burst out of the Eighties hardcore underground with music that told you something about where they came from and what they wanted: Here were songs about dads, songs about jobs, songs about drinking buddies you couldn't get away from and long boring drives through the Midwestern winter and quitting school and going to work and never going fishing. In their legendary live shows, the 'Mats would shamble through drunken destructions of Seventies pop trash before blasting off into one of Paul Westerberg's amazing original tunes, while Westerberg choked on his own raggedy voice and guitarist Bob Stinson urged the crowd, "You gotta boo!" From hilarity to heartbreak, the Replacements' emotional realness made other hardcore bands sound like sitcoms.

The early records hold up smashingly well, especially the cleanly recorded and brilliantly played Stink, which offers the ballad "Go" between manic sure shots like "Gimme Noise," "Fuck School," and "God Damn Job" ("God damn it/God damn it/God damn/I need a god damn job"). But Let It Be is where the 'Mats went overboard and claimed a national audience. Westerberg rasps with the nyuk-nyuk-nyuk snicker of the wiseass kid who learned early how to joke his way out of getting his ass kicked. The band charges through breathlessly funny brat-punk tantrums and a cover of Kiss' "Black Diamond." But behind all the noise, Westerberg bares his tender heart in "Favorite Thing," "I Will Dare," and the surprise acoustic ballad "Unsatisfied." An American adolescence in all its agony and ecstasy. (In 2008, Rhino Records released remastered and expanded editions of Let it Be and each of the Replacements' other studio albums.)

Tim sealed the triumph with growing-up tales like "Bastards of Young," "Left of the Dial," and "Swingin Party." Westerberg channels the voice of a young, scared John Lennon in the album-closing "Here Comes a Regular," the devastating acoustic confessional of a party commando who ages into a bitter old man right before your ears. You can hear a typically rowdy Replacements show on the live cassette The Shit Hits the Fans, confiscated from a fan's tape recorder during an Oklahoma City gig. Paul serenades the crowd with the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There," singing the first verse over and over because he can't remember the others, until the band locks into the guitar blowout "Can't Hardly Wait," Bob Stinson's finest moment. Around this time, the band also put on Saturday Night Live's best musical performance ever, playing "Kiss Me on the Bus" and "Bastards of Young" on the show of January 18, 1986.

Like so many other youthful rock hellions, the 'Mats flailed when it came time to grow up or blow up. They fired Bob Stinson under cloudy circumstances, in late 1986, and never got close to their old guitar fire again. Pleased to Meet Me is well sung, poorly played, terribly recorded, and often spoiled by a two-bit horn section (who must have offered the band a ride to the studio) despite the excellence of songs like "Alex Chilton," "Skyway," and especially "I.O.U." Don't Tell a Soul was a nod to Modern Rock radio, which did not nod back. All Shook Down had an ace ballad about crashing an old flame's wedding, "Nobody," which pointed to the rugged, mature solo style that Westerberg never followed through on.

The 'Mats even priced themselves out of the indie-rock live scene, opening for Tom Petty instead—believe it or not, that sort of thing was considered a shrewd business move in the Eighties. The band's final years are summed up in a moment on the live bootleg Shit, Shave, and Shower, where you can hear the Petty fans jeer and boo. Bassist Tommy Stinson mutters, "Fine, we'll play 'Achin' to Be' for the little nimrods." And then the band plays "Achin' to Be." Sad.

Of course there were solo albums, and lousy ones they were, too, though Tommy's live shows have always been a gas. We all expected too much from Paul, didn't we? Westerberg rocked on his 1993 solo debut 14 Songs, but after it tanked, his music became so forced and grudging that it was depressing to hear—the man really seemed to hate his job. Tommy Stinson recorded solo, after leading the bands Bash & Pop and Perfect, and joining Guns n' Roses. Even weirder, he appeared in Puff Daddy's "It's All About the Benjamins" video—hell, on a good night for the Replacements, it was barely even about the Abrahams. Bob Stinson died from drugs in 1995.

1986's Boink! Collects rarities like the lost classic "Nowhere Is My Home," an '85 outtake that would have been the best song on Tim. All for Nothing/Nothing for All is a poorly selected two-CD summary of the Sire years, emphasizing crap like "The Ledge" and "Talent Show." But at least it gathers "I'll Be You," "Nobody," and a studio mix of "Can't Hardly Wait" cut during the Tim sessions: at long last, a properly big-sounding version of this big-hearted song. Don't You Know Who I Think I Was is a career-spanning best-of that somehow leaves out "Androgynous" and "I.O.U" but is otherwise a decent introduction to the band.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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