Hi, We’re The Replacements
by Julio Diaz
Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
Let It Be
This would be the perfect time to memorialize The Replacements. Lord knows they are deserving. Paul Westerberg’s music and lyrics were, and still are, head and shoulders above almost anything else America produced during the 1980s. From their first album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash in 1981, to the final, All Shook Down, every album contained moments of empathic genius, stumbling, brilliant rock and utter disaster. That was their beauty. They could fail — just like us. They could succeed, sometimes amazingly. Just like us. The ‘Mats seemed to be real people, people who we could sit at the bar and share (many) beers with. No big hair rock star poses, no endless twiddling guitar solos, none of that shit. Just neighborhood guys making music.
Perhaps that is why the band continues to resonate so deeply with fans. This music connects without overpowering; even at their most “punk” — 1982’s Stink — they never bash you over the head with volume or speed. They were derisively described by one of those smug “Punk Rock Ph. D’s” of the time as a rock band trying to play punk. Exactly. They never wanted to be Hüsker Dü (no matter how much they loved them- check out “Something To Dü” from Sorry Ma). They wanted to be The Faces. This spanning of genres is part of the reason their stature has grown in the decades since their beginning — they mean and sound something different, but important, to different people. They never sounded too polished, making lo-fi records before it was deemed cool. They drank too much, and had the sometimes annoying habit of crippling their best songs, almost as if Paul was afraid of creating something too good. “Within Your Reach” from 1983’s Hootenanny is a perfect example of this. Easily in the top five best Westerberg songs, the original version finds Paul playing all the instruments, which include a strange “wooshing” guitar and an incredibly bad drum machine part. Still, despite all this, when he sings “Cold without so much/Can die without a dream/Live without your touch/I’ll die within your reach” and a blast of distorted guitar slams in, you get a chill. Each album had moments like this. Find your own.
Replacement fans endlessly debate which album is the best. Some prefer the earlier, sloppier punkish material of the first two, some like the varied perfection of Hootenanny, but all agree that 1984’s Let It Be is in the top two. This is where it all came together — Paul’s cynical lyrics, Bob Stinson’s firecracker guitar, it’s all there. “I Will Dare” begins the album as strongly as any record, anywhere, and songs such as “Unsatisfied” and “Favorite Thing” ache. True, the world wasn’t waiting breathlessly for the goofy take on Kiss’s “Black Diamond” found here, and “Gary’s Got a Boner” is charmingly stupid, but “Androgynous” and “Answering Machine” rival any material presented on either side of the Atlantic during the ’80s. This is the record that many people “discovered” The ‘Mats with, and almost 20 years later, it still can make you shout yourself hoarse singing along. This is truly a classic.
Restless Records has gathered the rights to the first four Replacements records and reissued them, adding no extra tracks or anything, but claiming to have “digitally remastered” them for release. I guess. If anything, they sound tinnier than the original CD issues (hit the bass boost button on the Walkman to add a bit of fullness). These are records that argue for not selling the turntable in a yard sale. They sound made for LP. Couple that with the fact that Westerberg and the rest of the band stand to garner no real money off these reissues, having no contract with Restless, who licensed them from Twin/Tone (who the band didn’t have a contract with either…) there is no real reason to buy these, unless you actually don’t own them yet. If by some fluke you’ve made it this long in life without experiencing “Shiftless When Idle,” “Dope Smokin Moron” or “Seen Your Video,” channel a bit of The Replacements spirit and steal ’em. Hell, the band themselves thought they had tossed the masters to their early records in the Mississippi (they only destroyed safety copies, according to label owner Paul Jesperson), so I doubt they will care.
This would be the perfect time to memorialize The Replacements. But we only erect statues to dead people, and this band will never die. Long live The ‘Mats.