The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews

The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews
The latest in the band’s series of expanded editions focuses on their second major-label record, the moment in which Paul Westerberg’s punk impulses, pop instincts, and poetic soul came into focus as never before.

Following a decade of epic reissues, a fraught-but-celebrated reunion tour, and even a planned biopic based on Bob Mehr’s monumentally entertaining and deeply depressing 2016 band history Trouble Boys, the robust lore around the Replacements has, at long last, finally threatened to overwhelm the music itself. Rock’s most melodramatic American act never failed to devalue their achievements with enough bad behavior and shenanigans to all but guarantee that the massive success which should have been theirs would never materialize. More than four decades after their formation, the mythology keeps on expanding, with an ever-growing cottage industry surrounding it.
The latest in the band’s series of expanded and repackaged editions comes in the form of the group's 1987 fifth LP, Pleased To Meet Me, the moment in which Paul Westerberg’s punk impulses, pop instincts, and poetic soul came into focus as never before. Every Replacements record is extraordinary in its way, but none exemplifies their garbage-to-grandeur alchemy like Pleased To Meet Me, which rocks like early Kinks, swaggers like T. Rex, and pays tribute to their spiritual godfather Alex Chilton. Recorded by hard-scrabble music lifer Jim Dickinson at Ardent Studios in Memphis, the album was a conscious attempt to attach the band’s legacy to the wellspring city that lay 800 miles down the Mississippi River from their hometown of Minneapolis. As with Dusty Springfield before them, the pilgrimage was an act of communion with the music that had shaped their identity.

By 1986, the group’s quixotic determination to both ironically comment upon and simultaneously up the ante on every rock-star-excess cliché had created its first victims. Founding member and lead guitarist Bob Stinson—a musical wildcard with debilitating psychological and addiction issues—was summarily fired from a group that included his younger brother Tommy on bass. This followed the dismissal of longtime manager Peter Jesperson, who carefully nurtured a young Westerberg’s evolving gifts. Such were the emotional contours for the Replacements’ second major-label record, and the one that Warner Brothers badly hoped would break them into the mainstream the way that the band’s friends R.E.M. had done in the previous year. The great, Faces-set-on-fire opener “I.O.U.” simmers with sublimated guilt and explicit anger: “Want it in writing/I owe you nothing.”

A lyrical and engaging player long drowned out by Bob Stinson, Paul Westerberg handles the majority of the guitars on Pleased To Meet Me. He offers a killer Johnny Thunders-style solo on the powertrash-classic “Red Red Wine” (decidedly not the Neil Diamond song), chimes away like Roger McGuinn on “Never Mind,”. Some fans lamented the absence of Stinson’s anarchic playing, and future Replacements releases would indeed suffer from a lack of spontaneity. But on Pleased To Meet Me the cleaner playing does nothing to derail the manic energy.

Dickinson turned out to be a perfect choice as a producer—unmoved by their antics, perceptive of their strengths, and imbued with vision and patience. Having helmed the hectic sessions for Big Star’s Third and played tack piano on the Stones’ “Wild Horses,” he knew a thing or two about wringing the best out of self-destructive geniuses. After an episode in which Westerberg’s vomit supposedly hit the wall, Dickinson kept the tapes rolling. There was no fresh hell that they could show him, although they certainly tried. The net result of his stewardship is a best-practices onslaught of hooks and aphorisms which arrived in time to inspire Nirvana and Green Day but too soon to capitalize on the mainstream’s growing appetite for aggressive, melodic rock.

Highlights abound: “I Don’t Know,” abetted by Steve Douglas’ honking baritone sax, evokes the degenerate strut of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot while hitting upon the unofficial band mantra: “One foot in the door/The other foot in the gutter.” Mood pieces like the endearingly self-effacing barfly vignette “Nightclub Jitters” and the ominous teen-suicide narrative “The Ledge” demonstrate Westerberg pushing himself out of his comfort zone to excellent effect. Meanwhile the album’s two explicit Big Star tributes—the beautifully self-explanatory power-pop confection “Alex Chilton” and the stunning twelve-string ballad “Skyway”—both rank amongst his greatest songs.

The expanded edition provides further evidence of the kind of songwriting roll that Westerberg was on in the mid-1980s, a hot streak to rival Bob Dylan in the ’60s or Joni Mitchell in the ’70s. The Replacements’ two previous LPs—1984’s Let It Be and 1985’s Tim—were tour-de-forces that would leave many an artist’s creative coffers barren. The new Pleased To Meet Me set makes it evident that the band arrived in Memphis with inspiration to spare.

The unused outtakes are a riot. There are horny burlesque gems like “Lift Your Skirt” and “‘Til We’re Nude,” Slade-style party anthems with names like “Beer for Breakfast” and “Trouble on the Way,” and a polka tune called “All He Wants To Do Is Fish.” On the quieter side, the closely drawn character study “Birthday Gal” and the ruminative “Run for the Country” are Westerberg at his most compellingly tranquil and sentimental. He even conjures the Smiths on the haltingly gorgeous “Learn How To Fail.” Best of all might be the early Tommy Stinson original “Hey Shadow,” on which Westerberg’s understudy lays bare the rock-star-in-his-own-right talents that would later emerge on his solo records.

The album’s irresistible closer and coulda-shoulda-been hit single “Can’t Hardly Wait” is a lonely hotel letter sent to a desperately desired lover, set to an ebullient riff which missed the charts at the time but has aged into something like a bona-fide standard. But in 1987, no one had the key to unlocking commercial viability. No less an industry titan than longtime blockbuster producer Jimmy Iovine took a stab at remixing the tune. It was a letter never sent. Everyone at Sire tried. The band added crackerjack guitarist Bob “Slim” Dunlap and toured relentlessly, a weird comet-sighting for everyone who witnessed it, but not enough did. None of the four singles released gained meaningful traction.

Pleased To Meet Me sold roughly 300,000 copies, well short of expectations. Warner Brothers didn’t have the platinum hit they had hoped for. But they did have an instant classic. And maybe, in their Russian Roulette way, the Replacements were always playing the long game. As any number of their more commercially successful peers slide ever more into the gaping maw of cultural obsolescence, now it’s all Replacements all the time. Against all odds, they’ve got both feet in the door.
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The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, October 22, 2020 Rating: 5

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