CD Review of Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements

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Pleased to Meet Me
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Sire
Released: 1987
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For the Replacements, there was always only one way to go and that was up. At least, if the rest of the world played by the band’s rules. Perhaps it’s not so ironic that the group never scaled the heights that everyone thinks it should have. After all, this was the band that publicly pissed on fame and fortune, which is fine to an extent, but there’s also a point where that kind of attitude can become alienating. Sure, looking back now, it was a “cool” move to show nothing but a speaker in black and white for the video for “Bastards of Young” (from Tim), but back in the mid-‘80s, that sort of thing was alienation defined. Especially if you were on a major label, which the ‘Mats were by this point.

Internal strife also wasn’t helping things much. Original guitarist Bob Stinson was ousted from the band when it was time to record Pleased to Meet Me. Unlike, say, the Velvet Underground, who turned into just as wonderful a group when John Cale was axed, the Replacements lost a good bit of steam once the elder Stinson was gone. Speculations have been made that one of the reasons he was shitcanned was because Paul Westerberg did want a taste of the big time and that Bob’s erratic behavior was keeping the band from doing so. That and supposedly that Westerberg couldn’t do as many pretty ditties. But now the balls were gone from the band and the only way up was down from here on out.

That is not to say the post-Bob albums are bad. They’re just of a different sort. At any rate, Pleased to Meet Me was recorded as a trio, before the band picked up Slim Dunlap, so here was Westerberg’s big chance to prove himself and his decisions as a front man. Sadly, much like Tim, the production of the disc leaves a lot to be desired, but in a different way. Whereas the former’s sound was just sort of thin and light on bass, Pleased’s sonics come off as a bit plastic, not really having much room to breathe. You know, that crazy stuck-in-the-‘80s sound that was being applied to everything that seriously didn’t suit the ‘Mats.

Still, the album kicks off with four killer tracks. “I.O.U.” comes across as another snot-nosed our-way-or-the-highway anthem, while “I Don’t Know” is pretty much the last song on any of the group’s original albums that embraced the anarchic humor of their wonderful Twin/Tone releases. It’s also the only place on the album where those out-of-touch horns (in this case a goofy sax) make any sense. Then of course there’s the huge tribute song, “Alex Chilton,” that still manages to get any kid who’s listening interested in Big Star. Interestingly enough, that group was similarly looked over time and again during its original tenure as well. You then get the tasty “Nightclub Jitters,” where Westerberg does his best lounge act by updating the sound of “Swingin’ Party” just enough to make it seem realistically schmaltzy.

After all this fun and games, things go for a decidedly serious note with “The Ledge,” a tune about suicide. The video the band made for the song, however, was another let’s-shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot misfire. Like “Bastards of Young,” the clip was in black and white and just showed the band sitting around eating and doing other boring bullshit. It was later recycled for the “Alex Chilton” video, which made no sense in that context, either. If it was career suicide the band was looking for, it was certainly getting close.

Next up, Paul Westerberg’s “influence” takes over just as he planned, with “Never Mind” and “Valentine,” two songs that could have greatly used Bob Stinson’s attack to tone down the cheese factor. For all the praise that has been heaped upon Westerberg’s songs from this period, it must be said that he could be overbearing with the “lonely guy wanting a good chick” routine. Stinson truly couldn’t have been holding Paul back that much, although it is easily understood how he could have had a less than enthusiastic reaction to some of Paul’s moments.

“Shooting Dirty Pool” is perhaps the final gasp of rowdiness the band had in it for the studio albums. Although Jim Dickinson’s production strips the guts right out of it, there wouldn’t be any such escapades on either Don’t Tell a Soul or All Shook Down. “Red Red Wine” grasps at similar straws, but for the first time ever, the Replacements sound like they have succumbed to sounding like every other bar band out there and the fire just isn’t in ‘em anymore. How the mighty can fall, indeed.

Closing the album is “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which, yes, was the impetus for the title of the movie of same name. Horns abound, mucking up Paul’s already too-sweet good time thing. Of course, you can hear how the band originally did this during the Tim sessions on the All for Nothing/Nothing for All compilation, which doesn’t have the horns larded on top and plenty of energy to go around. Go figure.

Personally, looking back on it all now, my tastes side with Don’t Tell a Soul as the better album. The high-gloss ‘80s polish sounds better on that disc, and the musical and lyrical ideas aren’t such a jumble. That was the album that should have put the band over with everyone on the planet, but it didn’t, and really, it’s just as well. For by that time, the ‘Mats (or at least Westerberg) seemed to be out of ideas for the long haul. Hence, the “group” effort that was All Shook Down that had its moments as well, but for the most part sounded tired and defeated. Pleased to Meet Me is the first step towards that inevitable demise.

~Jason Thompson