The Replacements (or the ‘Mats as their fans fondly called them) were to 1980s rock what Led Zeppelin was to the 1970s and the Beatles to the 1960s. The ‘Mats [ Paul Westerberg (vocals, rhythm guitar), Bob Stinson (lead guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass guitar), and Chris Mars (drums)] were the buzz band of the alternative rock era. Their live shows were drunken parties full of mayhem and noise. Their albums were chock full of energy and confusion, complete with sensitive songwriting, blaring arrangements, and attitude up the wazoo. Their wild behavior got them banned from Saturday Night Live and many other dates, but that was part of their mythos. Those that saw the group in their prime still share memories of the chaos like a prized possession.
The ‘Mats were loud and enthusiastic, not afraid of feedback or going out of tune, and willing to play the odd cover of a mainstream hit or forgotten oldie as much present new material. They sang about just getting by during the Ronald Reagan/MTV era of conspicuous consumption and greed. As a recording act, The ‘Mats began as an indie band with punk affectations on the Twin/Tone label with smarmy titles such as Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981), the EP Stink (1982), and Hootenanny (1983).
Their third full-length album Let It Be (1984) revealed them as more than just loud and spunky. Critics at the time (and since) have hailed it as a masterpiece and the ‘Mats as the voice of their generation. Their fans shared in celebrating the fact that being alienated and disaffected from the mainstream was a badge of honor. Living on the margins was a worthy lifestyle choice. Being perplexed by what others saw as normal was the prevailing condition.
The success of Let It Be got them signed to a major label (Sire). Their next album, Tim (1985), was another masterwork, but despite its genius, the album did not sell well. Internal conflicts within the group resulted in Bob Stinson getting kicked out of the band before the next album was recorded. That was Pleased to Meet Me (1986), which has just been re-released in a deluxe edition as a three-CD/one-LP collection featuring 29 previously unreleased tracks including demos, rough mixes, outtakes, and Bob Stinson’s final recordings with the band. It also comes with a 12″ x 12″ hardcover book with rare photos and new notes by Bob Mehr, author of Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements.
Pleased to Meet Me reveals the cost of touring, high expectations, and achievement had on the ‘Mats. It’s not a magnum opus like their previous two albums, but it’s still a very good record that contains such essential ‘Mats’ songs as “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Alex Chilton”, and “Skyway”. The band had made musical concessions to help get the album radio play, but most of their success was just on college radio. The record peaked at #131 on the Billboard charts.
It was all downhill for the ‘Mats from there. Although the band released two more major label releases, Pleased to Meet Me marks the formal end of their heyday. Like the Beatles after Abbey Road or Led Zeppelin after Physical Graffiti, there were pick and choose pleasures after Pleased to Meet Me, but the dream was over.
The best “new” material here are the 15 demos, 11 of which were previously unreleased, that were recorded at Blackberry Way Studios in Minneapolis during the summer of 1986. The first seven of these were the last recordings made by all four original members of the Replacements. There are no particularly outstanding gems among the other demos, outtakes, and rough mixes here, but there are still lots of delights.
While polished versions of the songs on the original album hold up well, the songs themselves are so good that even the non-audiophile renditions have a great amount of charm. And covers songs such as Billy Swan’s “I Can Help” and B-sides like “Election Day” have merit. One might quibble and not include every track on this compilation, but old fans will find many diversions here.
For some reason, the collection includes a vinyl disc that contains 13 rough mixes by studio engineer John Hampton that are already included on one of the three compact discs. This is not the first time that Rhino/Warner Brothers have released deluxe editions that mix albums and CDs but this does not make sense. It unnecessarily adds to the price of the boxset.