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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Replacements

Deluxe Reissues (Twin/Tone/Ryko/Rhino)

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  OK, so The Replacements hung around for an album too long (maybe even two albums), but their arc is the stuff of legend with good reason. Gather ’round, children, and you will hear stories of the early ’80s, when “alternative” music was still called “college radio” and good old punk rock was still relevant. Well, kinda relevant.

  Like other cities with a boho ghetto, Minneapolis had a music scene that revolved around a funky record store (Oar Folkjokeopus). One of the store’s owners (Peter Jesperson) heard a demo tape by the nascent Replacements and began putting out their records on his Twin/Tone label. The albums that followed read like a series of notes from the underground sent by a raggedy-ass band to listeners who never quite bought into the whole MTV sweepstakes. Rhino Records has released the band’s first four records, including a wealth of interesting bonus tracks.

  Like their forefathers The Faces, the ’Mats had soul to burn and either cared too much or plain didn’t give a shit—depending on what night you caught them. Paul Westerberg’s best songs reflected the frustration of moving from the shadows of adolescence into young adulthood. Yet for every heart-on-his-sleeve tune Westerberg served up (“Go,” “Johnny’s Gonna Die,” “Unsatisfied”), the band also delivered a blast of chaotic rock ’n’ roll that careened around gravel curves on two wheels.

  Central to this chaos theory is the late Bob Stinson’s lead guitar playing. It was really his band when Westerberg joined Bob’s younger brother Tommy on bass and Chris Mars on drums. Bob’s genius can be heard on “Gimme Noise,” where he conveniently sidesteps any musical genre and plays a solo of sheer emotion—not that he or anyone would have admitted it. Onstage Bob’s presence ranged from tutus to trench coats, but his unpredictable guitar playing could be magic.

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  For the record, Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash is the rollicking debut that throws said trash at the wall to see what sticks. For a young band’s first album, it holds up well as real rock ’n’ roll, with a fair amount of alcohol-fueled bravado. The follow-up EP, Stink (fans of the band will no doubt appreciate a reissue titled Stink Deluxe), was recorded in one blurred session using mostly first takes. Often described as the band’s reaction to hardcore punk, it certainly doesn’t lack for the melody and humor that the hardcore scene sometimes ignored. 1983’s Hootenanny shows a band confident in its abilities and one step away from greatness. Sure, there are still gag tunes like “Loveliness,” where the lyrics consist of the personal listings from a local newspaper, but the endless string of one-nighters had turned the ’Mats into a legit rock ’n’ roll band.

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  According to legend, when the band found out that titles could not be copyrighted, they considered calling their next album Gone With the Wind, but settled on Let It Be as tribute to manager Jesperson, a Beatles fan. Let It Be is a watershed album which declares that it’s time to fish or cut bait. It would be the band’s last for Twin/Tone. Westerberg’s songs for the disc are among the best of his generation, ranging from anthemic to heartfelt ballads—sometimes even in the same tune (“Sixteen Blue”). They even manage to outdo Kiss on a cover of “Black Diamond.” Anyone lucky enough to catch them on a hot night during this period was able to see one of the best bands on the planet.

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  The reissues include a wealth of gems, including live tunes and demos that serve to support the band’s greatness. Those of us fortunate enough to witness the band's evolution realized they did not spring fully formed from the head of Paul Westerberg, but the demos offer a glimpse at just how focused his vision as a songwriter was from the get-go. His home version of “You’re Getting Married” would have been a highlight of any album. Covers of Hank Williams, T. Rex and The Grass Roots show that the band had a far-ranging grasp of music history—and could have played a mean wedding reception, too.

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