During ten anarchic years, The Replacements recorded a ton of wonderful Paul Westerberg songs, self-sabotaged their career, and never achieved the mass success they promised. The band started as part of the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s, but they were never punks at heart. Lead guitarist Bob Stinson was a big fan of Yes, while lead vocalist Paul Westerberg was a sensitive writer whose empathetic songs sounded better when The ‘Mats slowed down from the extreme speed of hardcore punk. Drummer Chris Mars and bassist Tommy Stinson provided a solid rhythm section, and Stinson was merely 14 when the band released their first album, 1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot To Bring Out The Trash.
The Replacements also have a wealth of interesting non-album material, like the legendary, and brilliantly named, bootleg The Shit Hits The Fans, where the band play a bunch of sloppy classic rock covers. There are also a bunch of worthwhile b-sides and outtakes, like the Tom Waits collaboration ‘Date To Church’, the stripped down ‘Portland, and the countrified ‘If Only You Were Lonely’, while ‘Like A Rolling Pin’ was the Bob Dylan cover you always hoped someone was irreverent enough to record.
Here are The Replacements’ seven studio albums, ranked from worst to best:
#7 – Hootenanny
Hootenanny represents The Replacements’ transition between their early hardcore punk, and their later alternative rock. It’s the sound of a fledgling band trying a bunch of ideas and not all of them sticking. There’s a silly Beatles medley (‘Mr Whirly’) and a throwaway opener where the band members all switch instruments, although ‘Lovelines’, where Westerberg reads aloud from the classifieds, works fine. But there are a couple of classics here – the rocker ‘Color Me Impressed’ and the tender ‘Within Your Reach’, a solo effort from Westerberg accompanied by a drum machine.
#6 – Don’t Tell A Soul
The Replacements made a bald-faced bid for the mainstream with their sixth album, with new guitarist Slim Dunlap in tow. But there’s not enough personality here, with too many of their rough edges sanded off. There are strong tunes like ‘We’ll Inherit The Earth’ and ‘Achin’ To Be’, but they’re drowned in reverb. As part of their bid for the mainstream, the group toured with Tom Petty, who lifted the line “Rebel without a clue” from standout track ‘I’ll Be You’ for his own ‘Into The Great Wide Open’.
#5 – Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash
The Replacements were never hardcore punks at heart, and they jumped on the bandwagon to grab a record deal. But their debut is still an entertaining ride, brimming with personality, great Bob Stinson guitar solos, and typical Westerberg one-liners; ‘Shiftless When Idle’ is a great song title. But the band’s most effective when they slow down for the emotional ‘Johnny’s Gonna Die’, a tribute to The Heartbreakers’ Johnny Thunders.
#4 – All Shook Down
The Replacements’ final album is a mournful, subdued affair that was originally intended as Paul Westerberg’s solo debut. While Tommy Stinson and Slim Dunlap play on many of the tracks, rumour has it that all four members only play together on ‘Attitude’, while there are guests like John Cale and Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, while Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde duets with Wsterberg on ‘My Little Problem’. After the slick Don’t Tell A Soul, All Shook Down is refreshingly personal and rough-hewn.
#3 – Pleased To Meet Me
Paul Westerberg describes Pleased To Meet Me as The Replacements’ equivalent of The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed, an album recorded without a lead guitarist, with Westerberg taking all the guitar duties. It’s one of the three key Replacements albums, chock full of great Westerberg songs, but it’s the weakest, without Bob Stinson’s guitar and with the slickest production job of their mid-1980s albums. But great songs abound, from Westerberg’s tribute to ‘Alex Chilton’, the acoustic, gorgeous ‘Skyway’, and the adolescent drama of ‘The Ledge’.
#2 – Tim
Tim was The Replacements’ first major label release, with production from Tommy Ramone, and was also Bob Stinson’s final album with the band before he was fired for substance abuse. It’s a little less raw than Let It Be, but the songs are still terrific, like the silly air-hostess put-down ‘Waitress In The Sky’, rockers like ‘Hold My Life’ and ‘Bastards of Young’, and the heartfelt ‘Here Comes A Regular’; Tim is the sound of a band maintaining their peak form.
#1 – Let It Be
Let It Be is an amazing record, juxtaposing silly throwaways like ‘Gary’s Got A Boner’ with earnest, heartfelt songs like ‘Unsatisfied’ and ‘Sixteen Blue’. Where a full album of personal songs would feel empty and manipulative, crammed together with silly throwaways like ‘Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out’, they sound natural and real. And the cover of Kiss’ ‘Black Diamond’ makes Westerberg’s songwriting look like genius in comparison.
Do you have a favourite ‘Mats’ album?