CD Review of Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was: The Best of the Replacements by The Replacements

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Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was: The Best of the Replacements
starstarstarstarstar Label: Rhino Records
Released: 2006
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David Kamp and Steven Daly from “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary” define The Replacements in the following manner:

“Shambolic 80s guitar band from Minnesota whose plaid-shirted, raspy-throated leader, Paul Westerberg, was a profound influence on both the grunge movement and the ‘modern rock’ travesties of such bands as the Goo Goo Dolls. Westerberg broke up the band in 1990 due to poor sales and has subsequently alienated his fan base by going soft.”

Regardless of why Westerberg pulled the plug on one of the greatest unknown rock bands of the past three decades (or if he was solely responsible), it seems he has been trying to lure the surviving mates back together ever since. Sure, he had moderate early success in his solo career. His first record without the band, 14 Songs, was a great outing and plenty well received by the ‘Mats’ faithful. His accompanying tour included all the old favorites along with his new solo material, so nobody in their right mind was complaining. Until the follow up, Eventually, a few years later. That’s when he started wimping out, going soft, and many of the diehards began calling for a reconciliation with the band.

Founding Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson lost his lifetime struggle with alcohol and drugs in 1996. At the same time Westerberg’s solo career was waning, bassist Tommy Stinson was busy with his side band Perfect, as well as the many on-again-off-again encounters with Axl Rose’s erratic Guns N’ Roses reunion. Drummer Chris Mars, meanwhile, was spitting out a couple of decent solo records himself, but none of them were coming close to finding the magic of the former band. That is, until last year.

Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was is the first Replacements best-of collection to feature both the band’s indie and major label material. Even more promising for those still holding their breath for any sort of reunion, the two new tracks (“Message to the Boys” and “Pool & Dive”) mark the first time all three surviving members have occupied a studio together since the recording of All Shook Down in 1989. So the reunion rumors are lighting up the Internet chat sites like never before, although nothing has been formalized. Stinson has been busy sitting in with fellow Minneapolis garage punks Soul Asylum, as they finish a new record following the death of their founding bass player. But for the first time in nearly a decade, Mars, Stinson, and Westerberg are talking, writing, playing, and just plain cohabitating.

As for the new record, it is a top-to-bottom classic listen. If you’ve been waiting for an initial door-opening to the Replacements’ party, this is it. Every album and every era of an all-too-brief career is represented. While anyone could argue which songs made it or which ones didn’t, nobody can contest the greater body of work. From the hardcore punk beginnings (“Takin’ a Ride”) to the commercialized last stab at album sales (“Merry Go Round”), the chronological order of tracks will take you on a nine-year trip, an awesome crash course in the ‘Mats. If “Alex Chilton” is the only thing you’ve ever heard from these guys, it will come as a wonderful surprise to hear electric ballads like “Answering Machine” and “Unsatisfied.” Then there’s the borderline pop goodness of “I Will Dare,” which screams Billboard Top 40 but never got the chance. As for the new stuff, “Message to the Boys” could no doubt have fallen off a Westerberg solo album, but it sure is refreshing to hear Mars chime in with those backing vocals. “Pool & Dive,” on the other hand, is pure ‘Mats gold. Ignited with the vintage garage-style guitars, this new one sounds like a classic from 1984’s Let It Be, an album that these days is being held up by rock historians as one of the first grunge records. Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, and Soul Asylum wouldn’t have a stage to stand on today without the creations forged some 25 years ago by these high school buds in a rented garage

As Westerberg noted in 2002, “the beauty of Tommy and Chris and the Replacements was I never had to talk or explain it to them. I’d move my toe or my head and they’d just know. I’ve yet to really find that with another band.”

~Red Rocker