The Replacements: Tim, Pleased to Meet Me, All Shook Down, Don’t Tell a Soul

Music Reviews
The Replacements: Tim, Pleased to Meet Me, All Shook Down, Don’t Tell a Soul

A great band that let greatness slip away

Ranging from the mid-‘80s to the early-‘90s, the Replacements’ four major-label albums inspire a feeling of disappointment

—disappointment that they weren’t better, disappointment that they didn’t make the band into big stars, and disappointment that they spelled the end of the line for the woozy, boozy Minneapolis rock ‘n’ rollers. Still, three of the four final outings from Paul Westerberg and Co. were exhilarating efforts, and even the relatively bland Tim offered a few superior songs

—smart, inspired writing always being the key to band’s worthiness, however erratic the playing and production.

The ‘Mats later works had the misfortune of following the group’s finest album, Let It Be, their swan song for indie label Twin/Tone. But greatness in the traditional, for-the-ages way was never in the cards. The Replacements’ brilliance lay in their unstable combination of reckless, bar-band musicianship, Westerberg’s whiskey-and-cigarettes vocal rasp, and his amazing, touching songs, which could be funny and sentimental, arrogant and vulnerable, brash and compassionate, sometimes all at once.

Produced by Tommy Erdelyi (AKA: Tommy Ramone), 1985’s Tim assuaged concerns the group would be neutered by major-label affiliate Sire Records. Among the more-celebrated highlights are “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Bastards of Young” and “Here Comes a Regular,” although “I’ll Buy” is nearly as essential. Alighting in Memphis to work with Jim Dickinson

—a producer known for his spontaneity in the studio

—on Pleased to Meet Me, the ‘Mats signaled a desire to recapture the renegade edge of their early works. But at the same time, it was their first album without unreliable, hard-living guitarist Bob Stinson, signaling the band’s acknowledgment of the need to grow up. Along with certified classic “Alex Chilton,” saluting a ‘Mats’ spiritual mentor, and the gripping “Can’t Hardly Wait,” with its then-surprising horn fills, Pleased includes “The Ledge,” a cheesy descendant of Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” which emits the crassly disturbing aroma of product.

Matt Wallace (later to produce Maroon 5) shared production duties with the band on Don’t Tell a Soul, the Replacements’ attempt to serve the marketplace by creating a more polished album. But their hearts weren’t in it. Adding Slim Dunlap on guitar, Westerberg and friends often sound tired and dispirited. On a happier note, “Talent Show” and “I’ll Be You” find the lads achieving moments of authentic feeling, despite the gloss. By the time of All Shook Down, the Replacements’ finale, the band had already run its course, making this in effect the first Westerberg solo album. Performers include John Cale, Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano and Benmont Tench. Westerberg and R.E.M. vet Scott Litt produce, generating a somewhat livelier sound than Don’t Tell a Soul. The tender “Sadly Beautiful” and “The Last” stand out.

Reissue bonus tracks can often be shifty way to re-sell catalogue titles. Not so here. The generous extras (from six to 11 per disc) are consistently worthwhile, constituting a virtual alternate-universe history of the Replacements, had they stayed on a rowdier path. From two versions of “Can’t Hardly Wait” cut with Alex Chilton (on Tim) to the thrilling “Photo” (Pleased) to the rueful “Portland” (Don’t Tell) to the rip-roaring “Kissin’ in Action” (Shook), the Replacements often suggested limitless possibilities. If the band’s choices could be maddening, they never failed to intrigue.

Tim 83/100

Pleased to Meet Me 85/100

Don’t Tell a Soul 60/100

All Shook Down 80/100

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