Why weren’t The Replacements huge? Like R.E.M. huge, or Nirvana huge, or Guns N’Roses huge? They embodied the triple-distilled, sick, delinquent, messed up, American-whiskey essence of rock’n’roll. Sure, they got drunk on stage and swore a few times on TV, but when was infamy ever an impediment to the hall of fame?
They ran the gamut from punk to deep-dyed country soul but in the end, it seems that, as with Big Star, mass audiences didn’t want their rock music too uncut, too quintessential.
They kick-started with 1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash as Ramones-inspired punks, exuding the jizzy, BO smell of adolescent teen spirit from every thrashing pore. On their follow up EP Stink (included here in expanded form) they seemed to regress even further into hardcore with titles such as Fuck School and God Damn Job but, by 1983’s Hootenanny, Paul Westerberg had shown he was more than a one-paced wonder, able to take in the full range of the rock hinterland, from barroom boogie to pensive country.
Let It Be (1984) is rightly acclaimed as a masterpiece – considered, well-wrought post-punk without any of the genre’s portentous, arthouse tendencies – rather, it’s a series of paeans to adolescence, whose pains are as exquisite as any existential quandary. Tim saw them transfer to Sire and anticipate the 90s grunge mood too soon with the likes of Bastards Of Young. Pleased To Meet Me (1987) followed; Alex Chilton and Nightclub Jitters feel exceptional in that year, raw and blues classics both behind and ahead of their time.
They finally had a hit with I’ll Be You from Don’t Tell A Soul (1989), but with mainstream success close at hand they were outgrowing themselves, too mature for the encroaching MTV world. Despite requiring numerous session musicians, their final album, All Shook Down is a bed of dark jewels, including the masterly, unutterably sad, unutterably beautiful Sadly Beautiful, featuring John Cale.
The Replacements were a bit too good for this world. And maybe they didn’t care. ‘We’ll inherit the earth/But we don’t want it,’ sings Westerberg on Don’t Tell A Soul. Their bequest, however, is near-immaculate./o:p