Unpopular Opinion: The Replacements Made One Great LP and It's Not Let It Be

Grandparents singing songs about being too beautiful for smalltown America
Grandparents singing songs about being too beautiful for smalltown America

When I heard The Replacements were getting back together, I was a little embarrassed for them. Doubly so when I heard that Billie Joe Armstrong joined them on stage at Brochella.

It’s not that I’m opposed to reunions on principle. I’m really glad that I got to see Infest at least once, and Chain of Strength would kill most bands kicking around today. If the rumored original GnR lineup reunion happens, I’ll be on the first plane back to the States to see it happen.

But there’s something about The Replacements that should be frozen in time. When your entire band’s aesthetic is “beautiful high school loser,” a reunion is kind of … odd. This is especially true when only two original members are present. Why not just start a new band that covers Replacements songs?

In any event, The Replacements are one of the supremely overrated bands of rock history. Don’t get me wrong. I like The Replacements; I just don’t love The Replacements.

I suspect that this is in part true because I didn’t graduate high school in 1988. I know that if I were 45, I’d probably have "WE ARE THE SONS OF NO ONE" tattooed on my face. But I’m not, so I can make the bold (but true) statement that The Replacements really only ever made one good record. And no, it’s not Let It Be.

Again, it’s not that I dislike everything else they ever did. It’s just that I end up skipping more songs than I listen to. Sorry Ma is a glorious mess made by precocious teenagers and for that it has a sort of cute appeal, but it’s certainly not on the level of Redd Kross' completely comparable Born Innocent, where every track is a banger. With Sorry Ma, I usually listen to the first three tracks, then start slowly developing a headache.

Hootenany has “Hayday” and “Color Me Impressed,” but does it really have anything else? Everyone likes to rub their dick over Let It Be, but the production is atrocious and, once again, the album is spotty, even if Westerberg is showing signs of improving his songcraft. There’s less downtime here, and I actually like most of the songs everyone else hates, like “Gary’s Got a Boner” and the cover of “Black Diamond.”

On Tim, the band at least get some capable production, and the ratio of good songs to bad is higher than it’s ever been. They start playing the anthems that Westerberg always wanted them to on tracks like “Bastards of Young,” “Left of the Dial” and “Little Mascara.” And “Waitress in the Sky” is the rare joke song that’s actually funny.

But it’s really only Pleased to Meet Me that achieves greatness from start to finish. “I.O.U.” kicks down the doors from the second the needle hits the record. “Alex Chilton” is, bar fucking none, the best pop song of the 1980s. “I Don’t Know” is, lyrically and musically, perhaps the purest distillation of the 'Mats into a single song. “Valentine” has them revisiting that old theme of sickly sweet post-adolescent love, but finally getting it right this time. And they end it all with “Can’t Hardly Wait.” A brilliant record, solid from start to finish.

And that’s where they should have hung it up. The last two albums sound like what they are: Paul Westerberg anxiously inching his way out of a project he’s tired of.

I know, I know. That’s blasphemy to monk-diming dudes texting the babysitter in the middle of the 'Mats latest reunion set. An unpopular opinion — but hey, that’s the name of the column! 

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