The Replacements Albums From Worst To Best
7. Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (1981): The Mats' first full-length was a tour de force of great hooks, fast tempos, and amusing tales of suburban degeneracy -- overall a fine statement by a young band (really young: Tommy was 14 at the time) brimming with talent and charisma. A youthful Westerberg may still have been attempting to manifest the role of addled reprobate, but the intelligence of his writing -- from complex key changes to lyrics that rhymed 'city ordinance' with 'insubordinance' -- quickly gave the game away. There were a million striving punk acts at that time, but Minneapolis's finest was headed for bigger and better things, and on the unforgettable chug of the classic first single "I'm In Trouble," backed with the enduring country-style ballad "If Only You Were Lonely," it could scarcely have been more obvious.
6. Hootenanny (1983): The 'Mats' second full-length was also the first full-scale indoctrination into the band's abiding diffidence toward scene politics, industry expectations, or really anything that did not amuse them on a whim. It begins with the title track, in which the members change instruments and attempt a halting blues, predictably sounding terrible and wonderful. Following that it is pure id, ranging from throwback punk numbers like "Run It" and "Heyday," to silly genre experiments like the surf-style "Buck Hill," to out-and-out brilliant pop songwriting like the all-time classic "Color Me Impressed." There is also the matter of Westerberg's heart-on-sleeve "Within Your Reach," a gorgeous ballad that features a drum machine because he was too embarrassed to perform it with the band. Ultimately, Hootenanny is a muscular and exciting display of talent that doesn't feel comfortable revealing itself fully. In the annals of "we could not give a fuck what you think" records, this is one that stands alongside Harry Nilsson's Pussycats and Neil Young's Tonight's The Night in terms of anything-goes mayhem. Despite the misdirection, the influential press took notice. Greatness lay just around the corner.
5. Don't Tell A Soul (1989): The 'Mats' frequently derided 1989 shot at the big time has held up remarkably well over the years. Following commercial disappointments with their brilliant first two major label releases, Tim and Pleased To Meet Me, the band finally acceded to taking on a trendy producer, Matt Wallace, who had previously made commercial hay with acts like Faith No More. In many ways this is the strangest of all of the band's albums. Anarchic edges are smoothed over and era-appropriate production touches feel like strange bedfellows for a band who once considered the studio just another drunken rehearsal. Regardless of the seemingly poor fit between personnel and production, the power of Westerberg's writing cuts through the gloss, and tracks like "Darling One," "They're Blind" and "Rock And Roll Ghost" remain some of the band's best-ever material. The should-have-been hit single "I'll Be You" is just one of many in their catalog that might have topped the charts in a less insane world.
4. All Shook Down (1990): The final Replacements album is a requiem for a dream too tired to come true. If there is an appropriate analog in rock and roll, it is Big Star's Sister Lovers. Fully defeated by the industry, the band pulls back and considers what few options remain. Westerberg's pen is typically astute and nimble here, noting the soon-to-be-disastrous marriage depicted in "Nobody" and the fractious future of an unsettled newborn in "Sadly Beautiful." It's an album reckoning with the consequences of all that has come before. On the final track the band would ever release, "The Last," Westerberg ruefully acknowledges: "It's too late to run like hell."
3. Let It Be (1984): The Replacements final independent record, Let It Be, is thrilling from the opening shuffle of "I Will Dare" to the bracing closer "Answering Machine." This is the sound of a great band finally realizing that it's great. From the unforgettably infectious rocker "Favorite Thing" to the brilliant proto-LGBT rights "Androgynous" to the killer heart-on-sleeve anthem "Unsatisfied," nothing here doesn't work: Even the phenomenal KISS cover "Black Diamond" and the Ted Nugent tribute "Gary's Got A Boner" feel spot on. This iteration of the 'Mats could do no wrong, and lord knows they tried.
2. Tim (1985): The major label debut by the Replacements came with a certain irony. Tasked with having a producer approved by new label Sire, the band agreed on former Ramones drummer Tommy Erdelyi, who proceeded to manifest the worst-sounding album the band had ever made. The brittle, frequently unpleasant sonics on Tim belie the brilliant songcraft on what might well have been Paul Westerberg's finest-ever group of songs. The infectious "Kiss Me On The Bus" is a romantic, working-class tale of trying to make time with an ideal lady on a short commute. "Bastards Of Young" is the ultimate anthem without purpose, characterizing a generation that has the temerity of having "no war to name us." The barroom finale "Here Comes A Regular" could well be dedicated to his lost best friend Bob Stinson: "A person can work up a mean, mean thirst / after a hard day of nothing much at all."
1. Pleased To Meet Me (1987): Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis by former Big Star producer and soul music legend Jim Dickinson, this was the 'Mats recording at their cultural home-field advantage. The result is their finest album ever: a collection of hard-driving booze rock, power pop and Chilton-esque balladry which easily ranks as one of the best releases of the 1980s. The wistful 12-string beauty "Skyway" is as lovely a ballad as Westerberg has ever written. And from the full-throttle opener "IOU" to the unimpeachable album's end classic "Can't Hardly Wait," the band has never been better. That Pleased To Meet Me failed to perform commercially is, like so many things about the band, an enduring enigma. Was it really, to borrow a phrase from the title of their 1997 best-of compilation, all for nothing and nothing for all? Perhaps it seems that way in retrospect, but for those of us there at the time, it sure felt like something else.