Replacements
"Don't You Know Who I Think I Was?"

(Rhino 2006)Replacements - Don\'t You Know Who I Think I Was?

Paul Westerberg was the leader of The Replacements, a deceptively complex quartet of fuck-ups from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over the course of the 1980s he evolved into a songwriter who expressed loneliness, self-doubt, and disenchantment in unique and profound ways. Westerberg's maturation was the driving force behind the group's transition from a typical punk rock act of the early '80s to one of the most influential bands of its generation.

Don't You Know Who I Think I Was uses its first five tracks to cover the band's first three albums. Two tracks would have sufficed for this material. "Shiftless When Idle," in all its chaotic, adolescent glory, summarizes the band's hardcore beginnings, and "Within Your Reach" captures the experimentation of the third album, Hootenanny.

The liner notes say this of the fourth album, Let it Be: "Even at the time, critics hailed it as one of the greatest rock albums of the '80s, if not one of the greatest in the history of all of rock." Yes, this record does contain Westerberg's first bona-fide masterpiece, the power-charged "I Will Dare," which, combined with "Favorite Thing," "Androgynous," "Unsatisfied" and "Sixteen Blue" make Let it Be by far the best 'Placemats album to that point. But "Count the rings around my eyes," my favorite line from "I Will Dare," is the kind of line Westerberg would fill entire songs with later on. Let it Be aims much higher than its predecessors but it is marred by an immaturity that is not always intentional. The later Replacements were great even when they were being dumb asses; which was quite often, especially live.

Tim, released in 1985, is the record to which I would apply the above quote. Owing greater debts to Big Star, Johnny Thunders, and Hank Williams than any of its predecessors, Tim is represented by its four best songs, the first being "Here Comes a Regular," an ode that captures the emptiness that comes from wasting too much time in bars. Hoping to meet someone who transcends his surroundings, Westerberg instead finds himself surrounded by sad eyes all looking for the same thing -- that elusive, nebulous something more. "Kiss Me on the Bus" illustrates the absurd romantic hopes of someone suffering from debilitating shyness: Maybe the beautiful girl across the aisle will suddenly decide to come over and kiss you, her kiss suffused with a familiar longing that changes your life forever. Oh yeah, and we also have "Bastards of Young" and "Left of the Dial," two anthems that capture the essence of Generation X with precision.

Nearly Tim's equal is Pleased to Meet Me. Using surrealistic imagery to elevate the object of his desires to another plain, "Skyway" is a sublime statement of Westerberg's inferiority complex. "Can't Hardly Wait" was another in a long line of 'Mats songs that may have been hits in a world more appreciative of subtlety and nuance. A buoyant pop arrangement disguises the sadness of a lyric that yearns for the small pleasures of home and a more satisfying life.

Westerberg makes one of his most vivid statements in "Achin' to Be" from Don't Tell a Soul. Closing with the lines "Thought about and only loved/She's achin' to be/Just like me," the woman that Westerberg sings of is a mirror into his own being -- someone else searching for the kind of connection that would make the present moment worth thinking about and enjoying.

The collection closes with "Merry Go Round" from All Shook Down, their last album from 1990, and two new Replacements songs, the product of a 2006 studio reunion. The infectious "Message to the Boys" shows off the craft that Westerberg has continued to hone in his solo career, but the lyric lacks the visceral impact and juxtapositional wordplay that marked the best songs of the real Replacements. The other reunion track, "Pool and Dive," a forty-something stab at early Mats irreverence, falls flat.

This collection succeeds as a chart of the unlikely evolution of a great band. But collections of this kind always seemed compromised by a desire to hold something back and entice consumers to buy the full albums. Both as artistic works and start-to-finish listens, Tim and Pleased to Meet Me put this collection to shame.

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