Replacements Archives: Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash

Following last Friday's yearly tribute to the Replacements at First Ave--this year's headline featured a star-studded performance of the Replacements' debut album, Sorry Ma, I Forgot To Take Out The Trash--we thought it would be interesting to dig through the CityPages archives and look at some of the historical Replacements coverage during their early years.

The following article originally appeared in the September 9, 1981 issue of City Pages.

The Replacements - Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
By Jimi Nervous

They don't give a wee particle of fecal matter. They dismiss people and situations with profound concepts like "fuck," "goddam" and "shut up." And just for the hell of it, they "hate music" because "it's got too many notes."

They're The Replacements--they stand against the few, the stupid. But that's all right, because (to recoin a cliche) grea tmusic is sometimes boundlessly stupid, and Sorry Ma has some great moments.

The 18-song album represents the recorded debut of this young (bass player Tommy Stinson is in his mid-teens, and the oldest member was 21 at last report) Twin Cities band, and it comes straight out of the I-had-a-thought-therefore-i-should-record-it school of rock 'n' roll composition. Most of the 18 tracks are simply expanded phrases like the one Paul Westerberg sings in "Shiftless When Idle": "I ain't got no idols, I ain't got much taste."

In lieu of taste, the quartet offers energy and immediacy, and locks itself into a lost latter-generation, emotional pot-pie of anger, disgust, mistrust, bitterness, pessimism, boredom, inarticulacy, fear, hostility and all-occasion disillusionment. Clockwork black.

"Johnny's Gonna Die," for instance, conjures up grim prophecies concerning well-known ex-New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, singing "Johnny always takes more than he needs...Johnny always needs more than he's got." You get the sense, though, that the band members themselves are aware that they are not immune to their own tales of excess, and that the song could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's bleak stuff, but pretty compelling. Westerberg's vocal hovers somewhere between Ian Hunter and Boris Karloff, and Bob Stinson's lead guitar is an eerie and disjointed counterpart.

Believe it or not, "Johnny's Gonna Die" is probably the most sophisticated track on the record. Others are virtually nonverbal noise portraits of microscopically significant autobiographical moments.

"Customer" finds Westerberg feeling awkward and hanging around a store asking for change and Twinkies only because he's infatuated with the girl behind the counter.

"I Bought a Headache" registers a complaint about paying $8.50 to year a concert at the St. Paul Civic Center and ending up with nothing but a migraine. The complaint is also lodged indirectly against the bands that play such huge auditoriums, and the song ends with Westerberg parroting boogie phrases while the audience reacts by thunderously applauding his inanities.

"Don't Ask Why" is a curious statement of resigned acceptance of the end of a romance, for no particular reason and with no particular curiosity.

"Love You Till Friday" resurrects a worn theme, as the singer warns all females that he's not interested in marriage or long-term relationships. The track is redeemed by some particularly crazed instrumental work.

"I'm in Trouble," another of the album's better cuts, rather humorously describes and exaggerates the anxieties of a male being hotly pursued by a female he doesn't care for. Suicide is considered, but that's "no fun," so the singer decides against such a rash gesture.

"Shut Up" vehemently expresses anger at stupid conversations, wherein people insist upon talking about their jobs, their girlfriends or their rock bands.

"More Cigarettes" is a self-critical examination of the folly of that particular addiction.

"Shiftless When Idle," "Hangin' Downtown" and Somethin' to Du" are evocations of teenage restlessness and boredom.

And so on. If the themes sound pretty familiar, primitive and adolescent, that's because they are. But The Replacements' appeal has little to do with their literary prowess. It's hard to be a poet and a city punk at the same time.

Instead, their strength lies in their irresistible energy. Every song sounds like a frenetic, dying-wheeze effort by all the band members. Locomotive chord changes, perspiration lead and stops-out drumming hook you on virtually every track, a la the Commandos or Hypstrz. Occasionally, a tempo change will surprise, as when "Otto" slides briefly into a George Thorogood-like boogie parody.

Westerberg's vocals are remorselessly intense and plaintively emotional, all screams and rage with nuances that sometimes recall pre-falsetto Mick Jagger.

And that's the first album. I, wouldn't, as did one local reviewer, call The Replacements a close-to-perfect rock 'n' roll band. Suffice it to say that "Johnny's Gonna Die," "Kick Your Door Down," "Shiftless When Idle, "I'm in Trouble," "Customer" and "Love You Till Friday" qualify as pretty stupid, pretty wonderful rock 'n' roll songs. And despite their limitations, The Replacements are an unpretentious, musically jolting band--one that you might learn to give a wee particle of fecal matter about.

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