[31 March 2013]
On some level, this might actually be the most perfect form of a Replacements reunion. The ‘Mats always seemed too much of a shaggy dog band to reform as a working band again like Dinosaur Jr. did, and they’re too contrarian to go the cynical route and tour behind re-issues of Let It Be and Tim for eternity. Songs For Slim, on the other hand, makes perfect sense for The Replacements: of course they’d get back together to do an EP with covers of Gordon Lightfoot and Hank Williams with little to no fanfare announcing their reunion. Perhaps that’s for the best, as Songs For Slim doesn’t represent anything close to a grand, powerful return of what many people claim is one of the greatest rock bands ever to walk the Earth. However slight it is, though, it has plenty of the shaggy-dog charm that made the ‘Mats so beloved in the first place.
As with the two songs recorded for the 2006 compilation Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was?, this “reunion” is a tenuous one at best: drummer Chris Mars only appears on one track, while Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson are backed by a loose band (featuring Kevin Bowe on guitar and Peter Anderson on drums) on the remaining four songs. The remaining absence is the man in the title of the EP, Slim Dunlap, who unfortunately suffered a stroke in 2012. Despite the seriousness of the cause for which it’s intended to benefit, little about Songs For Slim is especially somber or sad. It’s more of a celebration of one man’s music from his friends, as homey and unprofessional as you can get. Considering we’re talking about The Replacements, that is quite an accomplishment.
Mars hasn’t played with either Westerberg or Stinson for years, and it’s fairly evident from Songs For Slim that he’s on a completely different page than his old bandmates. His contribution, a cover of Dunlap’s “Radio Hook Word Hit” is a tight, polished performance that is impressively arranged but, honestly, lacks a bit of personality. The rest of the EP can charitably be described as “messy,” as Westerberg, Stinson and their pickup band stumble through Dunlap’s “Busted Up” and plow through Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway.” Westerberg and Stinson seem less interested in reviving the recorded version of the Replacements and more interested in returning to the live version of the Replacements, the drunken mess of a band who clearly didn’t care yet still managed to impress.
Even though it’s for a good cause, nobody should go into Songs For Slim expecting something on par with the band’s best work. It’s too loose, too ragged, and it’s doubtful that anyone would pick their version of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” over “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Even so, Songs For Slim demonstrates a side of the band that few people-especially new fans-ever knew: a fun, carefree band that got lost somewhere in all the mythologizing. That alone makes Songs For Slim an interesting an refreshing listen, even if it isn’t groundbreaking.