The Replacements: The studio albums, ranked from worst to best
As the music world's attention focuses on the highly anticipated live return of the Replacements in Toronto this weekend, now seems like a perfect time to dig into their potent back catalog. Whether you're a longtime fan who remembers seeing our beloved 'Mats play at the Longhorn in the early days, or you're just getting into their music now, their releases still sound as vital -- if not more so -- today as they did when first released.
Each album captures a band in a constant state of flux, with the fitful balance between untamed rock 'n' roll and catchy pop. The inner workings of the band and their frayed personal relationships also course tempestuously through their work, and the 'Mats perfectly captured that creative tension within their poignant numbers. With each record, the Replacements gave a glimpse into a group destined to come apart at the seams.
While music fans wait to see what the modern-day Replacements sound like, Gimme Noise takes an affectionate look back at the band's stellar studio output of the past (save for the recent Songs for Slim EP) and ranks the releases that put them on the musical map in the first place.
8 - All Shook Down
The band's swan song is a Replacements album in name only, and essentially marks the beginning of Paul Westerberg's solo career. And while most of the songs have a loose, inspired elegance to them ("Sadly Beautiful," "Nobody," "Torture"), the record comes off as a solitary artistic statement from Westerberg with very few meaningful contributions from anyone else left in the band.
All Shook Down isn't the sound of a band on their way out, it instead captures the hushed echoes that linger in the air long after they've stumbled out of the room.
7 - Stink
The EP that gave this blog its name would rate higher, if the band would have only stretched this raw fury out into a proper full-length (though many would say that is precisely what they did on Hootenanny). From the sound of the police breaking up a live 'Mats gig that serves as the intro to "Kids Don't Follow," this whirlwind collection has a vehement urgency that captures the untethered live ferocity of the band at the time. What frustrated adolescent doesn't easily identify with the rebellious anthems "Fuck School" and "God Damn Job"? The only negative to this bristling EP is that it's over in a mere 13 minutes.
6 - Don't Tell a Soul
Following the unceremonious departure of Bob Stinson a few years before, guitarist Slim Dunlap joined the band in the studio for Don't Tell a Soul, an album that launches fittingly with the jangly pop bounce of "Talent Show," as if the new arrangement of the group is auditioning in front of their fans. Dunlap's understated but stellar hooks ring through these vibrant arrangements, with Westerberg's ramshackle but heartfelt odes "Achin' to Be" and "I'll Be You" fitting in fluidly alongside the outsider, alienated call-to-arms of "We'll Inherit the Earth" and "Anywhere's Better Than Here."
Though the slick, polished production occasionally ruins some of the finer moments of the album -- ones that would have been better served in an unvarnished form -- there's no denying the simple charm of these indelible, though decidedly solemn numbers. Even though much of the material on this record has dour undertones, these songs still manage to capture the sound of a band having a bit of fun in the studio together, even though the end is clearly in sight.
5 - Hootenanny
The band's second full-length captures the young quartet struggling to hold on to their wild punk roots while also maturing artistically as a band. The record features plenty of local references (including a scathing takedown of Roseville in the liner notes) as knowing, insider nods to their Twin Cities fans. This album takes its influences from anywhere and everywhere, with lyrics infamously cobbled from the personals at the back of City Pages ("Lovelines") to blatant, shambolic Beatles rip-off "Mr. Whirly" (not the last time the group would cop from the Fab Four), the 'Mats had the balls to audaciously try anything at this point, and mostly succeeded.
"Color Me Impressed" is one of the best blistering anthems in the 'Mats entire catalog, and "Run It" builds on the intensity of their debut, while the moody churn of "Willpower" hints at the direction the band would head toward in the future. There's a bit of everything on Hootenanny, which is precisely what the band seemed to be aiming for.
4 - Pleased to Meet Me
The singles alone from Pleased to Meet Me would make this a brilliant record, even if Westerberg read the phone book for the rest of the album. "Can't Hardly Wait," "Alex Chilton," "The Ledge," and the tender "Skyway" are all rightfully held up as among the best songs from the 'Mats' legendary canon of hits. The record finds Westerberg fully taking the reigns of the band following Stinson's dismissal from the group, with the band taking an unusually long (for them) two-year break between albums. The slapdash recordings of their early days are fully done away with on this record, as the group recorded digitally for the first time with legendary producer Jim Dickinson. And while that results in a cleaner, glossier sound, the vibrant songs themselves are what ultimately shine through.
The band were again up for trying out any style that would suit them, with the Memphis-fueled rock of "I.O.U." giving way to the corner-bar swing of "I Don't Know," which fits seamlessly alongside the loungey pulse of "Nightclub Jitters." And while the brassy horns and string arrangements that enhance much of the album must have come as a bit of shock to their longtime fans on first listen, these self-assured songs represent the distinctive talents of a songwriter who was truly starting to come into his own.
3 - Tim
It could have been very easy for longtime fans to dismiss the Replacements once they signed to a major label. But the stellar collection of songs that are assembled on Tim negate any criticism that the band had outgrown their roots and gone mainstream. Westerberg perhaps knew that a potential backlash was possible, and responded to the pressure by writing some of the best, most assured songs of his career, immediately silencing those detractors who were just waiting to pounce when the band slipped up.
The 'Mats didn't slip up at all on Tim, as the ambitious, subversive artistic statements of "Bastards of Young," "Left of the Dial," and the gorgeously heartbreaking "Here Comes a Regular" answered any questions that fans might have about the band possibly losing their way under the spotlight and scrutiny of major label attention. While the effortless charm of "Kiss Me on the Bus" and "Waitress in the Sky" also garnered the band some radio play, the driving churn of "I'll Buy" and "Little Mascara" also bristled with a spirited allure. But ultimately, the success of the record is a direct result of the potency and unsettled poignancy of "Bastards of Young," "Left of the Dial," and "Here Comes a Regular," songs that are so fucking good that the rest of the album (and much of whatever else was happening in music at the time or since) simply pales in comparison.
2 - Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash
The Replacements' feisty debut is truly a great record, despite the band's sloppy attempts at self-sabotage. The derisive liner notes take plenty of self-deprecating shots at the quality (or lack thereof) of the songs themselves, while the understated production captured the immediacy and intensity of the recording sessions without trying to clean up any of their imperfections. "Takin' a Ride" is such a fitting song to launch the Replacements' career, as the fiery track comes to signify the turbulent journey that the band would eventually take their fans on.
The rest of the rapid-fire punk record doesn't really slow down once, with the young band giving one scorching adolescent anthem after another, filled with the mundane activities of bored, unsatisfied youth ("Customer," "Hangin' Downtown," "Shiftless When Idle," and "More Cigarettes"). The brazen thrash of "I Hate Music" resonated clearly with any disaffected malcontent, while "Somethin' to Dü" was a feral musical nod to their local contemporaries Hüsker Dü. The raucous frustration that courses through the defiant album closer, "Raised in the City," resonated in the rebellious hearts of music fans all over the country, and soon enough the Replacements wouldn't be the Twin Cities' musical secret anymore.
1 - Let It Be
Consider for a second the sheer audacity of giving your record the same title as the final album by the most famous rock band of all time. The Replacements clearly didn't give a damn about legacy or entitlement by the time they recorded their third full-length record, and the results are quite nearly perfect. Let It Be was the last of the 'Mats' celebrated Twin/Tone releases, and it was their best, launching with the dynamic pulse of "I Will Dare" and never looking back, with each successive song adding to the restless, artful charm of the record. There really isn't a second of wasted time on this album, with every taut track and creative idea pared down to its unsettled essence. Even something as tedious as a tonsillectomy becomes something you can dance around and rock out to.
"Androgynous" is a tender, piano-laden unifying anthem for anyone who has ever felt alienated by the close-minded, while the messy cover of Kiss's "Black Diamond" shows that the band aren't immune to the appeal of stadium rock numbers. Hell, even a tossed-off song hilariously called "Gary's Got a Boner" slays, despite the band's slacker attitude and unlofty aims. Calling "Sixteen Blue" Let It Be's lovely, flawless high point implies that there are low points to be found on this record, which there really aren't. You can search for imperfections on Let It Be if you want to, but that's far less enjoyable than just turning the magnificent record up to 10 and getting lost in the radiant rock charms of the Replacements at their creative peak.
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