REISSUE OF THE MONTH
All over but the shouting
You never know how much you miss The Replacements till their porked-up vessel collapses drunk on your porch.
As you’ll recall, drummer Chris Mars bailed 30 years ago, after Paul Westerberg reluctantly dropped All Shook Down as a ’Mats release (they were splinters by then any-hoo), but that formidable amber tang lingers raw and sweet in the throat, rotten hops like thunder to the plexus. Even at 48, once-matted hair now tweeded in sterling silver, I wholly embrace those snotty fucks.
Pleased to Meet Me (1987), their penultimate squawk, landed at an interesting juncture. Punk-craven miscreants swelled to genius-level maestros. The ’Mats crumbled to a trio following the ixnay of lead guitarist Bob Stinson, then balls-deep in addiction and a widening ideological gulf with bandmates Westerberg, Mars, and bassist Tommy Stinson, Bob’s little brother, who'd joined the lineup at 12. This would be their first outing apart from his anarchy.
They’d signed to Warner Records subsidiary Sire in 1985 following a tumultuous courtship that found them deliberately retaliating against attempts to rein them in. Tim, their major-label bow, marked a sonic sayonara to their Minneapolis, Minnesota, hometown while abetting their increasingly sophisticated rumble (“Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Left of the Dial,” “Bastards of Young,” “Here Comes a Regular,” “Waitress in the Sky”). Wordsman Westerberg was a prolific inferno, but young Tommy was coming into his own as a songwriter too; it’s his line, “Pleased to meet me / the pleasure’s all yours” (non-slabber “Even If It’s Cheap”), that would inspire the new album’s title. For his part, Westerberg was maturing into his inspirations, still an angry young man with a deeper bleeding soul and, finally, a budget to match his ambition.
Popular rock music took a curious turn as the '80s spewed to inevitable collapse. Warner Bros. snagged fellow Minnesotans Hüsker Dü from SST Records, yanking Candy Apple Grey and Warehouse: Songs and Stories from their expanding palette. That band, however, was due to implode in December '87 while touring the latter LP. Conversely, R.E.M. of Athens, Georgia, struck I.R.S. gold with “The One I Love” then enjoyed a long, fruitful ride with the Bunny, beginning with 1988’s Green.
Pleased to Meet Me sounds as toothsome as it did when I was 14. To have even more of it across 3 CDs and an LP, tracking its path from Blackberry Way demos to locked-tight perfection under producer Jim Dickinson, is a rare treat. On paper, it seems an odd match: bellicose delinquent drunkards uniting with the shaggy Southern godhead (Mojo Nixon, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) who compelled Big Star’s Third to greatness, Minneapolis-bred jackals trooping to Memphis’ Ardent Studios like church (or treatment)-bound reprobates.
Yet the relationship works. Opening shot “I.O.U.” is not-unpleasant jaw-sock fueled by the primo Westerberg sneer, “I want it in writing / I owe you nothing.” Big Star, then but a low-key rock-crit crush, receives raucous hosannas in “Alex Chilton,” a stone-classic tribute to that seminal unit’s resident weirdo, basking in snaggletoothed riffs and soaring joy. Chilton himself graces the album’s sessions with his eminence, mystifying acolytes with his peculiarities and contributing a guitar line to “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a number the ’Mats had attempted multiple times before finally cutting it to their satisfaction for Pleased. “I Don’t Know” shrugs to existence on Teenage Steve Douglas’ skronky sax (a fuggin' sax) and backing monotones slathered in toxic swallows of prescription drugs.
At Pleased’s heart rests a near-perfect parcel of potent rock fuel: “Never Mind,” “Valentine,” “Shooting Dirty Pool,” and “Red Red Wine.” The first is raw self-analysis penned in the wake of Bob Stinson’s dismissal: regret for hurtful words and reflection upon behavior. Love blooms in “Valentine’s” handful of pills, a mash poem puking narcotics and booze, wracked in Dickinson’s Hammond turn. “Shooting Dirty Pool” squalls like a bullet, Westerberg at his fists-clenched, phlegmy best. “Red Red Wine” revels in the pleasure of draining grape down your gullet for kicks: “Now I ain’t no connoisseur cat, the conno-sewer kinda sewer rat,” he japes, sticking it to the swells over hot-jawed rage. Despite his clowning, Westerberg was adept at clever phrasing. (See, also: “Rigor mortis sets in / the television sets in every home” from “Kick It In,” recorded multiple times but inexplicably never used.)
“The Ledge” remains, in my estimation, the album’s profound achievement. Lyrically and melodically, this mini-opera rides a guttural gallop walloped in desperation. Westerberg contemplates a deadly leap, the ultimate fuck-you to betrayals both real and imagined. “I’m the boy they can’t ignore” dances cheek-to-cheek against “I’m the boy she can’t ignore” as newsmen shovel doughnuts down their holes, pens ready to chronicle despondency before impact — then the awful, unavoidable, frightening plummet Westerberg explores with a reaching solo — words incapable of matching the moment emotionally. The song’s final statement, a loss unfilled: “I’m the boy for the last time in my life / All the love that they pledge / For the last time will not reach the ledge.”
Acoustic tenderness tinges “Skyway” in bright, longing shades, a paean to Minneapolis and fallen grownup romance written during one of the ’Mats’ excursions to Memphis in late 1986. According to the set’s accompanying essay, culled in part from Bob Mehr’s definitive Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements (Da Capo Press, 2016), its recording went much like Westerberg’s “Within Your Reach” in ’83, with the frontman alone, sharing his vulnerability with no one. (Also gorgeous: the unused Kinks-inflected “Run for the Country.”)
Pleased wraps proper on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” Chilton peeking momentarily over Dickinson’s kitchen-sink production, layering the Memphis Horns and a strings section over a fucking Replacements number, normally a lean, mean crash of guitar, drums, and bass. Somehow Westerberg allowed this vision to pass. (Picture the Wrecking Crew o'er Never Mind the Bollocks.) Nevertheless, it falls a perfect curtain on an album primed with anger, silliness, lunacy, alcohol, and serious, unfettered ambition. The record was built for teenaged me, then reveling in all self-classifications.
This, of course, is the meaty, expanded Pleased (Rhino Entertainment Company, 2020), so we have a long way yet to travel, beginning with singles and covers that chased the initial release. The Replacements may be fragmenting, but Westerberg’s got plenty left in the tank. He belts “Election Day” in buzz-sawed petulance, then dips into old songbooks on a pub crawl through America. Hank Mizell’s 1958 rockabilly juggernaut “Jungle Rock” sounds tailor-made for the ’Mats. They romp through “Route 66,” returning a hoary pop chestnut to the heart-gobbling excitement Bobby Troup felt when he wrote it down that very artery in 1946. “Tossin’ n’ Turnin’” loses its harmony supporting vocals to riffs and doesn’t truly catch fire until the singer finally yelps outta nowhere, “Stop this music! Who’s got my natural comb?”
The remaining discs cover the original demos waxed at Blackberry Way Studio in Minneapolis, where Soul Asylum, the Suicide Commandos, and Hüsker Dü reigned, and rough mixes of the album’s tracks. The first seven cuts of Disc 2 mark Bob Stinson’s last ride as the Replacements’ guitarist. “Bundle Up” and Disc 3’s “Lift Your Skirt” rock a duck-walking ’50s groove (albeit with more contemporary references to junk and, uh, skirt-lifting for the fellas). Westerberg cracks up near the conclusion before launching abruptly into “Birthday Gal,” which may have fit comfortably on Tim. We’re blessed with three versions of “Kick It In,” which puts the boot to its own chorus; that it never surfaced on an album is a goddamn shame.
“Time Is Killing Us” is textbook Replacements, an infernal hot-throated caterwaul on the brink of disaster. Tommy Stinson contributes “Awake Tonight,” “Hey Shadow,” “Trouble on the Way,” and “Even If It’s Cheap”; none appeared on Pleased, but all four — “Hey Shadow” in particular — pave the way for his solo career. “’Til We’re Nude” and “Beer for Breakfast” are infectious trifles, the latter a seeming goof on the band’s reputation.
Pleased to Meet Me tanked upon release, plateauing around 300,000 copies, hardly enough for Warner Bros.’ monied tastes. But that’s 300,000 garages packed with scrappy restlessness, 300,000 bedrooms blasting cries of suburban alienation. The Replacements consistently spoke for a generation of scabbed knees in tattered jeans, yelling in its voices, changing its lives. That’s all you can ask of two scarred sides of vinyl.