Here’s the third and potentially last part of our Replacements word vomit. Not sure if we’ll do the last two records, but stay tuned to find out.
TIM – AVALON KENNY
Tim is a sign of the Replacements after finally getting a grasp on that quintessential “’Mats sound.” Coming quick on the heels of Let It Be, the record hangs onto the college rock sound they’d grown into post-Hootenanny. The first half is a little more restrained, leaning heavily on power pop hooks and classic rock n’ roll chords. The second half is the ‘Mats unleashed, with crushingly sincere songs about the realities of love, disappointment, and alcoholism. Paul Westerberg’s stereotypically adolescent anguish somewhat grows up and focuses more on the realization of mortality and working class blues through the lyrics on Tim. The songs take on a new voice, but the themes are still there. Produced by Thomas Erdelyi (better known as Tommy Ramone), the record serves as a segue between Tim and the poppy Pleased To Meet Me.
The opening track, “Hold My Life,” is remarkably more toned down than their other openers like “I Will Dare” or “Takin’ A Ride,” but is still equally enamoring. It shows their transition towards college rock, somewhat amusing as they never attended college and spent a whole lot of time talkin’ shit about REM. It’s another classically heartbreaking ‘Mats song, showing how desperately dependent Westerberg could be. While a little more “mellow” than some previous tracks, the song is still catchy and pure rock ‘n’ roll. Then there’s another rocker, “I’ll Buy,” which sounds like it could’ve been a Buddy Holly or Chuck Berry b-side. There’s twangy guitar, a rockabilly drumbeat, and repetitive, tongue-in-cheek lyrics.
“Kiss Me On The Bus” is another one of Westerberg’s songs with lyrics that pull on your heartstrings. It’s hard to romanticize public transit – where it’s not uncommon to see a hobo’s penis or have to sidestep shit as Anna did last week – but somehow he manages to do it in a desperately longing way. The singer desperately wants to have a public display of affection but his love interest clearly is trying not to cause a scene. But I mean…who wants to make out in a seat that has a 90% chance of being pissed on in the past 24 hours? The song leans more powerpop than rock or punk, and is probably one of the more youthful songs on the record.
Up next is “Dose of Thunder,” whose chugging verses are somewhat recreated in their later song “Shootin’ Dirty Pool.” It’s got a killer Bob Stinson solo, and is probably one of the punker songs on the record. “Waitress In The Sky” kind of sounds like “If Only You Were Lonely,” part two, but there’s a stark contrast with the lyrics. It’s a little misogynist, but I guess we can let it slide because it’s very obviously sarcastic (Westerberg’s sister was a flight attendant). It’s from the perspective of a demanding customer who is disrespectful and an asshole, over a bluesy guitar riff. The loungy “Swingin’ Party” is a kind of depressing reality about not wanting to grow up and continuing to party your life away. Certain verses are almost Springsteen-esque as they discuss being a working class kid trying to make your way through life but being brought down by the routine of drinking and perpetual adolescence.
But what is there to say about “Bastards of Young” that hasn’t already been said by fans or critics? Easily one of their most recognized songs, it’s also the song that got them kicked off of SNL. It’s lyrically advanced, a depressing anthem of the working class. From the moment that Stinson’s fingers hit the frets and you hear Westerberg’s piercing wail – the song grabs you straight in the gut. The lyrics are agonizingly blunt about the harsh reality of growing up poor in a poor town. The line “income tax deduction/one hell of a function” is a reference to Westerberg’s mom inducing labor so he would be born in 1959 and claimed in that tax year. One of the most heartbreaking lines has gotta be “the ones who love us best/are the ones we’ll lay to rest/visit their graves on holidays at best” juxtaposed with “the ones who love us least/are the ones we’ll die to please/if it’s any consolation, I don’t begin to understand them.”
“Lay It Down Clown” serves as the album’s comic relief amongst the heartbreaking working class anthems and songs about desperation. It’s another rockabilly song, with the background vocals hinting at later Stones records. But it’s nothing compared to “Left Of The Dial” – which is about Lynn Blakey, the college rock sweetheart who played in bands ranging from The Broken Crayons to Let’s Active. Westerberg was so enamored with her that he’d search for her on the college radio stations, and this song relies heavily on imagery and sadly optimistic lyrics. He kind of glorifies her (as he should) through a secret love song. The song could easily have fit on Let It Be stylistically but deserves its spot on Tim, some glimmer of hope between hopeless lyrics.
Speaking of hopeless, the last two tracks are the embodiment of the word. “Little Mascara” is a love story gone wrong. Focusing on an abusive relationship, the guitar heavy song wrenches at your gut. It plays on the weak, codependent aspect of a relationship. Lines like “for the moon you keep on shooting,” showing the endless hope the woman has that maybe he’ll get better, are matched with “for the kids you stay together.” Ultimately, “all you’re ever losing is a little mascara” is one of the most brilliant metaphors for crying. Along with incredible lyrics, the guitar solo is one of the greatest on the record. Finally, there’s the Replacements’ classic “Here Comes A Regular.” Painfully relatable, anyone who ever has been a regular would understand. It focuses on bar culture, and the feeling that you fit in at a bar where people know your name while trying to forget the bleakness of your actual life. Some lyrics are almost sanguine, because you can find someone else who is also a “regular” who will drown their sorrows beside you. You’re stuck in a routine of working and drinking, wanting to feel special, but the only time you feel special is when the bartender remembers your name because you’ve gone to that bar so many times. You’re stuck.
The album is anthemic in and of itself, with such songs like “Bastards of Young” and “Here Comes A Regular” easily being defined as ones’ theme song. It’s dripping with working class laments and the quintessential Westerberg aching depression. Coasting off the high left from Let It Be, it’s the perfect passage between that record and Pleased To Meet Me.
PLEASED TO MEET ME – ANNA THEODORA
Not strictly a punk album, not really indie, sort of college rock, mostly rock n roll: Pleased to Meet Me finds itself occupying many spaces at once. To define an album by a lyric may be reductive but “one foot in the door/ the other one in the gutter,” howled over a raucous din on “I Don’t Know” may begin to capture the spirit on the ‘Mats’ fifth studio album. Their only effort recorded as a trio, right after Bob Stinson’s departure, portrays a band pulling itself in all directions at once. Some songs pull towards mainstream radio play, some pull back to the dirty punk origins of the band, and some break new ground entirely.
Before I break this down any further, I’m going to just come out and say that I really like Pleased to Meet Me. Like, a lot. I see where it dulls in comparison to perennial favorites Tim and Let it Be, and I acknowledge where it shines in a way all its own in the band’s discography and as an alternative rock album. I don’t see a band ‘selling out,’ if by that one means they compromise their integrity or creative output. Pleased to Meet Me sounds like a lot of anguish, a lot of heartbreak, and a lot of desperation. The loss of a member and the ongoing substance use and abuse by the band have this album feeling very raw, even as it explores more radio-friendly territory and genre bending. Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic described it as, in many was, “the last true Replacements record,” and I’m inclined to agree on this front. Self-destruction and self-effacement can lend themselves to making great art, but it’s not necessarily sustainable, and in later efforts the band’s shine would be dulled as they for all intents, imploded.
Something seen consistently through the bands first albums and their live persona was an abject refusal to take things all too seriously. The album opener, “IOU,” has Paul Westerberg making sure all the industry reps hoping to cash in on them were aware of that by sneering “I owe you nothing,” while buzzsaw guitars screech in the background. Westerberg seems nonplussed with the idea of material success at best, and having the ‘mainstream album’ start off with a song about how bored he is with dealing with the industry is classic Replacements; flirting with and ultimately denying success. The track that follows is an absolute masterpiece, (“I’m in love with that song”). Paying homage to power pop legend and Big Star frontman in both name and style, “Alex Chilton,” shows off the ‘Mats’ ability to write a killer pop song but to then play it with a aggressive rock n roll edge to make it truly memorable. A band not bound by their influences, this isn’t some rip off of a Big Star song, but something that nods and winks at them while still being completely unique. Chilton himself would end up playing guitar for the Replacements, notably on this album’s closer “Can’t Hardly Wait.”“I Don’t Know” follows “IOU” in it’s nonchalant, unimpressed attitude, an autobiographical song where the band couldn’t really care less about what happens next, expressing that they’re pretty much just fucked regardless.
I mentioned earlier that this album has a feeling of rawness to it, of desperation and angst and where this comes through most is the back-to-back couplet of “The Ledge” and “Never Mind.” These songs are both really, really dark, and have an inherent feeling of being trapped or stifled. “The Ledge” sounds like someone coming to their breaking point, years of repressed frustrations coming to a dramatic boil. And “Never Mind,” sounds like the regret that follows, as someone tries hastily to put back all of the things they said when they were angry; a task that’s futile at best.
The rest of the album veers back and forth between chaos and quiet. “Valentine” mixes metaphors between substance use and being in love, not an unexplored way of talking about either of those subjects in rock n roll. Westerberg seems ready to be destroyed by his ‘Valentine,’ knowing that with every good high comes the comedown, intoxicated by the moments that culminate before the inevitable crushing disappointment. “Skyway” is the polar opposite. Westerberg talks about the Skyway in Minneapolis, where it’s so cold in the winter that folks have to travel from place to place via a set of elevated hallways, how the city itself remains so empty and stark, and how the homeless population would seek shelter in the Skyway. The background information on the track paints a stark image of an abandoned metropolis in the dead of winter, everyone’s faces buried in their winter coats as they rush between their homes and jobs. The song uses this stark emptiness to its advantage and places it apart from both the verse-chorus-verse pop dynamics and the raucous chaos found other places on the album. It’s a beauty, but a sad beauty. The seasonal depression of Replacements songs, when not even a blanket of twinkling snow can cover up the feeling of hopelessness.
The album culminates with “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a visceral sucker punch of a song. The chorus builds impressively, with a tasteful saxophone, and sounds incredibly hopeful and excited at first glance. The whole song, down to the unforgettable guitar refrain, seems burgeoning with hope. Later on, a film about the last big party of high school would take it’s name from the track, amplifying the phrase as something nearly giddy. It has that kind of feeling running all of the way through it. Twinkle in your eye kind of stuff. However, a closer glance at the lyrics, or especially at the Tim version shows the darker current running just underneath the glimmer of hope that “Can’t Hardly Wait” provides. It’s a song about suicide; it’s about how you can’t hardly wait for things to get any worse, or even scarier, for them to stay the same. Earlier in the album on tracks like “IOU” and “I Don’t Know,” it seems almost as if the ‘Mats are goofing on an audience who thought they were on the inside of the joke. It’s a retention of the “fuck you” attitude, even shrouded within a pop song. You could look back to the Sex Pistols last concert for the same feeling, with Johnny Rotten sneering “ever got a feeling you’ve been cheated?” into the mic. It’s even better, in that way, to be an exclamation of hopelessness shrouded in hopefulness, where sometimes all you can do is laugh at the “ashtray floors, dirty clothes, and filthy jokes” that have come to comprise your life.
While it may not be an album “about depression” in the sense that it was intended to be, Pleased to Meet Me nearly works as a case study. You can see mania and its comedown, you can see someone throwing themselves headlong into harmful behavior just to break the cycle of numbness, and you can see the cracks that come from being put under pressure in all directions. It doesn’t hit you over the head as a concept album and was by all means not intended to be one, but it speaks to a desolate experience from all angles and definitely helps find comfort in those experiences; ones near universal but deceptive in their way to make you feel isolated. It’s the final installation in our series for a reason — the rawness encapsulated in Pleased to Meet Me could not be recaptured by the Replacements again in their career, and the things that made it so raw and poignant were reflections of the factors that would be the downfall of the band.