I’m a Replacements fan. There. I admitted it. At least I didn’t vote for Trump.
Being a Replacements fan isn’t a bad thing, but you do have to put up with some quizzical looks from people sometimes, which is a damn shame. Because the Replacements are one of the best Rock & Roll bands a whole lot of people have never heard of. They are, in my view, Criminally Underrated. My love for them was recently reignited by watching Color Me Obsessed, a wonderful documentary about the band and the people who love them. (It’s on Amazon Prime if you want to watch it. . . and I recommend that you do.) So I’ve been listening to them on the way to and from work the last couple days. This morning, I decided to see what was available to download, because I knew I had a glaring hole in my personal collection (which I filled). But there was another glaring hole I didn’t know about. Or did know but had forgotten. Or didn’t think it was a glaring hole at the time but was so, so very wrong about.
The ‘Mats (look it up) released Don’t Tell a Soul in 1989, and many fans and critics took an instant dislike to it. It was considered their sell out album because it was on a major label and very heavily produced. Personally, I’ve always loved it; it contains several of my favorite songs and one of my favorite lyrics ever, from any artist (“They play with your head, but they’ll never stroke your hair.”). But it was much more polished than anything else they put out.
in Color Me Obsessed, they interviewed Matt Wallace, who produced the album along with the band (well, Paul Westerberg, anyway). He talked about the sound they were originally going for, and how the label had the album remixed (by Chris Lord-Alge, no less) in an effort to make it more commercial–an effort that was decidedly NOT appreciated by the fans or Matt Wallace. The general assumption was that the original master tapes of the original mix were lost.
They weren’t. According to the write-up on iTunes (yeah, I know, but it’s still one of my best and most convenient sources of music), the original master tapes were found “squirreled” away in Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap’s belongings. And it is a revelation. When I first listened to a sample of the first song, I almost cried. Not only did it sound like the Replacements, it sounded so much better than the album the label released. All the overdubbing and reverb are stripped away to reveal a damn fine album. To whit, listen to “They’re Blind” from the original 1989 release.
Not a bad song at all. Very heartfelt and emotional (a trademark of Paul Westerberg’s songwriting, and apparently something the other members of the ‘Mats made fun of). It’s always been one of my favorite tracks. Now listen to the remastered Matt Wallace mix from the stellar 2019 compilation Dead Man’s Pop.
This version fucking aches. It’s incredible how open and raw it is, filled with such yearning and sadness. Would this version have been more successful than the version the label put out? Probably not. The Replacements were at least decade ahead of their time. Or a decade behind. It’s kind of hard to tell with them, sometimes. And they were masters at self-sabotage. But if Sire Records had just released the original mix, they would have given a great band a chance to shine the way that band was meant to.
I called Dead Man’s Pop a stellar mix a little earlier in this post because I know it is–even if I’ve only listened to a handful of tracks so far. I know it’s stellar because it’s the Replacements, and I am a Replacements fan. Because even at their worst, their most drunken and angry and irresponsibly lazy, the Replacements were never boring. And their music is great, running the gamut of genres and emotions from punk anger to emo tender. I’m considering starting a petition to get them inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Yeah, I’m a Replacements fan. Color me obsessed.