CD Review of Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) by The Replacements
Recommended if you like
Paul Westerberg, Soul Asylum,
Big Star
Label
Sire/Rhino
The Replacements:
Pleased to Meet Me
(Deluxe Edition)

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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I
t was hard to be a fan of rock n’ roll in the 1980s. The biggest names of the decade (outside of Bruce Springsteen) were simply too polished to connect on a purely visceral level, and the punk and indie scenes were really only a saving grace for those who actually knew about them. In between were the Replacements – initially a punk band, but aspiring for something more, they almost made it.

Rhino’s reissue of the band’s second album for Seymour Stein’s Sire Records – the Warner Bros. distributed label that launched, among many others, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode and Madonna – found the ‘Mats straddling the line between punk and mainstream rock. “Alex Chilton,” their affectionate tribute to the Big Star principal and founder, exemplifies this balancing act best – the verses chug with punk energy, while the chorus’ hand claps and celebratory expressions (“I’m in love with that song”) are pure power pop.

The album’s most obvious concession to the mainstream, however, is all in the drum sound. It’s not quite a ZZ Top digital beatfest, but the icy snares are hard to ignore. Fortunately, they don’t detract from the chilling single “The Ledge,” the defiant opener “I.O.U.,” or the lovely “Skyway.”

The album’s other significant big-time flirtation, the addition of horns and strings to “Can’t Hardly Wait,” is actually done so tastefully that it hardly qualified as “mainstream” at the time it was released. Producer Jim Dickinson tapped into the legacy of Memphis, where the album was recorded, and evoked a sound that wasn’t exactly in fashion anymore. Now, of course, it’s classic, and rightfully has a secure place in the ‘Mats songbook.

The 11 bonus tracks tacked on to this reissue effectively double the album’s length, and joy of joys, provide a fun taste of the ‘Mats circa 1986 without that dated ‘80s snare sound that scars the album proper. Granted, the five demos included are less manic bursts than relaxed exercises, but the songs are there – “Birthday Gal” was strong enough for a proper release, and in fact did surface a decade ago on the compilation All for Nothing/Nothing for All; and “Bundle Up” is as fine an excuse as any to break out some rockabilly rhythms. Alternate versions of “Alex Chilton” (clean snares and a false start) and “Can’t Hardly Wait” (an early take, pre- strings and horns), as well as some fun covers of “Route 66” (Nat “King” Cole and Chuck Berry, among others) “Tossin’ and Turnin’” (the 1961 Bobby Lewis hit) and “Cool Water” (a Chris Mars-sung version of the country and western classic by the Sons of the Pioneers, coming off like the Rolling Stones’ frequent country excursions but without the southern drawl) round out the extras, effectively extending that moment when the ‘Mats should have been much bigger. However, with Bob Stinson gone by this point (the band recorded Pleased to Meet Me as a trio, with Paul Westerberg taking all the guitar parts himself), the already volatile band was on its way down.

The biggest success of their career would arrive a couple years later, but by then, other than the terrific single “I’ll Be You,” they weren’t delivering enough of the goods as an actual band to sustain their fortune. If the ‘Mats catalog ended here with Pleased to Meet Me, their legacy would be unassailable.

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