In this era of synthetic sound and an increased emphasis on the cosmetics of media geniality, the Replacements are probably too true to be good. While they haven’t exactly reinvented the fourman guitars-bass-drum lineup, they have dramatically reaffirmed its primal essence without pandering to any oldfogy revivalist tendencies or formulaic banalities. They jolt the nervous system with the disturbing correctness of their sound — a nose-thumbing energy that plugs in and out of professionalism — and they grab the heart with the compassionate yet bratty conviction of their songs.
If the Replacements have a theme, it has to do with the necessary failure of fun and the equally necessary drive to have it. The band has a reputation for being boozy and erratic, but they never back off from the truth. Tim is simultaneously mature and adolescent. Lead singer Paul Westerberg has developed an authorial voice capable of collapsing complex contradictions into a single phrase. On “Waitress in the Sky,” a seemingly harmless countrified ditty about a stewardess, the band constructs a paean to the profession before slagging the poor dame for believing in the euphemism “flight attendant.” “Little Mascara” is a greasy teardrop running down the cheek of marital disappointment.
Tim’s themes are most eloquently expressed in the closing songs on each of the sides. In “Swinging Party,” life is a lilting series of ultimately empty, but nonetheless compulsory, soirees. The record closes with “Here Comes a Regular,” a resigned and dissolute salute to the salt of the earth from the rim of a shot glass. “Here Comes a Regular” is the realistic flip side of Springsteen’s “Glory Days” sung from the point of view of a man in his twenties who’s capable of looking neither forward nor backward but only downward at the melting ice cubes clanking in his drink.
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The Replacements are no mere vehicle for Paul Westerberg’s moving and emotionally intricate songwriting and singing (any more than the Velvet Underground was a vehicle for Lou Reed). They are the real thing, a true band, produced with insurrectionary fervor by Tommy Erdelyi, the original Ramones drummer. Guitarist Bob Stinson heaves thick chunks of metal and dinky, skewed melodic fills against Westerberg’s chordal structures. Little brother Tommy Stinson adroitly moves from bass grunge to harmonic filigree, and through it all, Chris Mars maintains an eloquent heartbeat that never misses the mark. While threatening to careen off center, the music always coalesces into the proverbial greater whole. Tim, the Replacements’ most focused and consistent album (and first for a major label) sounds as if it were made by the last real band in the world.