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The Replacements

Rattling their rambunctious rock’n’roll power pop punk like some American cousins of The CLASH or STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, The REPLACEMENTS were the great white hopes of a society reeling from the inauguration of a former actor into the White House: Ronnie Reagan. The buzzing, “low-life loser” band were once quoted, after a tour, as saying “Better hours nine to five – nine at night to five in the morning, that is”.
Legendary purveyors of ramshackle three-chord punk rock, The REPLACEMENTS’ early efforts were so lo-fi they were off the end of the scale. Led by chief songsmith and rhythm guitar-shredder Paul Westerberg, they sang about BOX TOPS/BIG STAR idol `Alex Chilton’, and opened the floodgates for respective rivals and followers from HUSKER DU and R.E.M. to SOUL ASYLUM and GOO GOO DOLLS to get in on the action.
Formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1979, originally as The Impediments, the Stinson half-brothers Bob (lead guitar) and Tommy (bass), Chris Mars (drums) and the aforementioned spokesman Westerberg, almost immediately struck a cord within their disillusioned punk fraternity. Signed to local independent institution, Twin/Tone, the quartet debuted with `I’m In Trouble’, a single that accompanied parent set, SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH (1981) {*7}. The record’s raw-nerve hardcore bluster, cathartic melodies and twisted humour shining through its garden-shed production (and a particularly dilapidated one at that), heads would roll on the chronicles of society’s down-trodden, a la `Takin’ A Ride’, `I Bought A Headache’, `Kick Your Door Down’, `Raised In The City’ and the SPRINGSTEEN-esque `Johnny’s Gonna Die’.
Never mind kicking up any dirt, 1982’s mini-set STINK {*6} stepped on the gas and upped the nihilism through more songs about buildings and food (`Fuck School’ and er… `Dope Smokin’ Moron’). Classed as an EP in the States, although it would bafflingly qualify for album status if required, the fist-pumping chanthemic `Kids Don’t Follow’, `God Damn Job’ and `Stuck In The Middle’ identified with the young, loud and snotty “Dead Boy” rebels of the day.
Mixing up the medicine to incorporate elements of blues, country/folk, surf, psych and the kitchen-sink, there was a party going on for HOOTENANNY (1983) {*7}. Not just a sprawling set of quick-draw gunslinger punk songs, but a studied collection of uptempo/downtempo pieces from the all-grinning `Color Me Impressed’ to the down-beat `Willpower’, the ‘Mats – as they were affectionately known – had truly come of age. With The CLASH on a near-permanent vacation, `Take Me To The Hospital’ and `You Lose’ were equal to any “Revolution Rock”, while the groove-bending `Within Your Reach’ and the out-and-out rock’n’roller `Mr. Whirly’ (ripping into the Fab Four!), scored points over the retro-fied, water-boarding `Buck Hill’ instrumental.
The REPLACEMENTS liked no better than to wallow in a good cover version, and with a few on show as B’s from the excellent `I Will Dare’ maxi-single (T. REX’s `20th Century Boy’ and HANK WILLIAMS’ `Hey Good Lookin’’), it was hardly surprising another cut (KISS’s `Black Diamond’) reared its ugly hard-rock/hardcore head on the band’s third full-set, LET IT BE (1984) {*9}. Its title of course, cheekily swiped from a bye-bye BEATLES set, maybe this was a hint to their own state of play. One of Twin/Tone’s biggest sellers from the era, Westerberg and Co used their hormonal energy to more satisfying and constructive ends. Paul’s STRUMMER-like rasp breathtakingly world-weary, intuitive, and granted, with a melody pitch-perfect, the likes of `Gary’s Got A Boner’ didn’t suggest another ELVIS COSTELLO in the ascendant, although the bruised beauty of `Sixteen Blue’ put Westerberg head and shoulders above most of his contemporaries (with the honourable exception of, perhaps, HUSKER DU). Baring his soul, Westerberg’s heart-churning `Unsatisfied’ and dental appointment-avoiding group composition, `Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out’, were two other tracks on either end of the punk spectrum.
The previous record’s charms were powerful enough to attract the major label attentions of Sire Records and, several months after a cover-loaded live cassette, THE SHIT HITS THE FANS (1985) {*5}, The REPLACEMENTS unleashed the Tommy Erdelyi/Ramone-produced TIM (1985) {*9}. Furnished with a bigger budget, the group tempered their ragged sound while retaining much of the threadbare authenticity; the hooks as razor-sharp as ever on the ground-shaking and all-guns-glossy-and-blazing `Bastards Of Young’, `Kiss Me On The Bus’ (infamously performed drunk on Saturday Night Live!), `Left Of The Dial’ and loner track, `Here Comes A Regular’ (ditto `Swingin’ Party’).
“Tim” was to be the last album to feature the sacked Bob; the band’s notoriously shambolic live appearances robbed of the man’s more erm… eccentric tendencies (playing in a dress – radical for the time! – or indeed in the nude, was not uncommon). But it was drink and drugs that played its part in his downfall.
With (Bob) “Slim” Dunlap roped in as a replacement (but as yet only on tour), the band issued what many fans and critics alike regarded as peak-rate rock’n’roll: PLEASED TO MEET ME (1987) {*8}. More musically mainstream in line with their growing eclecticism, the Jim Dickinson-produced album also found Paul’s songwriting prowess at its unprecedented best; `Skyway’ soared heaven-ward, while the horn-addled `Can’t Hardly Wait’, not forgetting their ode to `Alex Chilton’, were the killer pop songs he’d been threatening to pen since the band’s inception.
Almost criminal, the rave reviews and positive momentum surrounding the album’s release failed to translate into sales.
In the aftermath, The REPLACEMENTS sounding strangely muted on 1989’s DON’T TELL A SOUL {*5}. While some minor concessions to commerciality resulted in a Top 60 chart entry, the band were on their last legs. Could co-producer Matt Wallace control the band?… well it must’ve been tough. Subsequent shouts of sell-out from many of their steadfast fans, only, really, the appropriately-titled `Anywhere’s Better Than Here’, plus `I Won’t’ and `I’ll Be You’ were fair-to-middling songs – the rest was TOM PETTY-like hokum, whom they incidentally supported on tour.
Learning little from their previous heartbreaker, ALL SHOOK DOWN (1990) {*6} was a Westerberg solo effort in all but name. Intended just for that purpose, it was no surprise that a disgruntled REPLACEMENTS were perturbed by in-session “replacements” from some of TOM PETTY’s backing band. Highlights again few and far between (JOHN CALE performed viola on `Sadly Beautiful’, CONCRETE BLONDE’s Johnette Napolitano duetted on `My Little Problem’ and TERRY REID was heard on `Someone Take The Wheel’), only really `Merry Go Round’ shone from out the pack.
CHRIS MARS was first to realise his solo ambitions, and November ’90 was probably the right time to bail. His berth filled by Steve Foley, after a support slot to ELVIS COSTELLO, they bowed out on the night of July 4, 1991, leaving the roadies – one by one – to play them out. Tommy Stinson duly formed BASH & POP (who released an album, `Friday Night Is Killing Me’ the following year), while PAUL WESTERBERG worked on his solo debut proper, `14 Songs’ (1993) and continued onwards and upwards for the next two decades or so. Sadly, Bob Stinson died of heart failure on February 18, 1995.
The REPLACEMENTS were never forgotten in the eyes and ears of their many fans. Inevitably, Paul and Tommy re-formed the band for live shows, with the intention of maybe releasing an album in the future. In the meantime, a limited-edition EP, `Songs For Slim’ – the “Slim” being Dunlap who’d suffered a stroke in February 2012 – was issued the following March.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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