Monday, March 30, 2009

The Replacements Rhino/Rykodisc Reissue Series

I've been a fan of The Replacements since Spring 1988 when my cousin John Fredericks informed me that although many bands in leather pants were being touted as "real" rock and roll, The 'Mats were indeed the real thing. He loaned me the Pleased To Meet Me cassette. I must have listened to "I.O.U." a half-dozen times before I even got to track two. I instantly fell in love. They changed the way I perceived rock music as a whole for some time. In 2008 Rhino/Rykodisc (and Twin/Tone) reissued remastered all eight of their studio albums.

Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash

(Originally released: Twin/Tone 8/25/81) *****

Sheer perfection in a reissue series of misguided ideas and awful mistakes.

Wow! This album is still as exciting as it was the first time I heard it. For the first time in digital format both Bob's and Paul's guitars are largely evident. The first CD issue of the album had Bob's guitar virtually inaudible whereas both guitars are screaming from either speaker on the vinyl issue and again...finally here on this reissue.

The songs. Well, "Raised in the City", "Hangin' Downtown", "Somethin' to Dü", "Customer" and the debut single "I'm In Trouble" may be some the most exciting songs the band ever released. This is the 'Savage Young Replacements' (for want of a better comparison) and they were seemingly fully-formed and basically perfect from their outset.

The reissue. This reissue series is unfortunately pretty awful. Poor, uninformative liner notes, audio drop-outs, edited tracks, poor selection of bonus tracks, and no information from any band members on the sessions. Of the first four releases this is far and away the best.
There's a healthy amount of great bonus material (virtually the mirror opposite of Stink) and the sound quality of these recordings are great. The only gripe is that there are other recordings from this era that could have been included here or on Stink, but were not.

However the same head-scratchingly corny/awful idea of having footsteps
and a slamming door preface the bonus tracks (seriously) is here as well as the other releases. And the choice to add an interview snippet on the end of "If Only You Were Lonely" makes no sense and is simply just asinine. It spoils the long-awaited appearance of such a good song on it's own individual track. I suppose we'll have to wait for someone else to license this material to do this correctly. The complete interview should have gone on it's own individual track. You have to wonder just who was responsible for all these consecutive bad ideas.

Thankfully this release bares little resemblance to the rest in the series.

Oh yeah and "A Toe Needs a Shoe" is awesome.

The Replacements Stink

(Originally released: Twin/Tone 6/24/82) **

I understand this was an EP but...twelve tracks?!?

The sound is more spacious than ever before, BUT, the harmonica intro
to "White And Lazy" is now newly muffled and then recovers very shortly thereafter. This was not an issue with the prior CD issue on Rough Trade. So either it was a mistake in mastering or if the master tape was damaged they chose to not use the source from a safety master. This is a pretty barren reissue. Eight tracks, four bonus tracks. Twelve total. Twenty minutes of music. That's it. The liner notes mention another take existing of "Kids Don't Follow" but it seems that no one thought to include it.

I'm not one to welcome changing the identity of a track at all but, for some reason the police-crashing-the-party intro really outstays it's welcome here. Maybe Itunes will issue "Kids Don't Follow" one day without the meandering intro and just the actual song.

There were plenty of other period outtakes not included on "Sorry Ma..." such as "D.E.A.D.", "Skip It", "Off Your Pants", "Excuse Me, Use Me", "My Town" and "I Made A Mistake" that were not unlike anything on Stink and would have made it a nice and big reissue. So this entire series is a little head scratching.

I guess we'll have to wait for the box set.


(Originally released: Twin/Tone 4/29/83) *

I can't believe I'm giving this great album a bad review...but

It must be noted that I've been a huge fan of this band for just about twenty years. So these reissues were something to look forward to (as they have been supposedly in the works for ten years). But unfortunately it's been the blind leading the blind as far as these reissues are concerned.

The music. Okay so the original vinyl album was the first album that I bought by this band. It still sounds great. So does the majority of this CD actually. However, as I get to the awesomely dramatic "Willpower" I notice that the beginning of the song is chopped off!! The song has forever started with the guitar line and then a "ba-dum" tom-tom part. Now there's no more guitar line intro and just part of the "dum". I don't know how they (Rhino/Ryko) can make BIG mistakes involving the transfers/remasters on three out of the four reissues. Stink (drop-out on the intro to "White & Lazy") and Let It Be (several edited tracks!) have the same issues involving either head-scratching mistakes or blatant editing of tracks. The majority of people buying these don't want revisionist history lessons - just the material as it has existed for over twenty years.

Who thought it was even an okay idea to put the stupid preface on the index to the bonus tracks (of someone walking down a hallway, enters door, slams door and the bonus material commences)? Not only is it plain corny and needless but it bleeds onto the beginning of the following track! They couldn't even execute a bad idea properly!

The bonus tracks are iffy at best as they left off the full band studio version of "Don't Get Married" and "Shook Me, Kill Me" as well (both fine outtakes from the album). "Bad Worker" is fine but has no place on this as it's a home demo and not a studio outtake (this sort of material - home demos - is begging for it's own disc on perhaps a box set?). And the ten seconds (or so) bits from interviews at the end of these discs deserve better than fifteen seconds after the final track. While these may be awfully cute and all they don't deserve to be on the same track as say a classic such as "If Only You Were Lonely" (as on "Sorry Ma"). This sort of thing was almost still funny fifteen years ago. It's pretty pointless doing things like this now. Put the complete interview on it's own track - it won't detract from anything this way.

If you are already a fan of this fine band, you undoubtedly will have issues with several things on these releases. Reissues have been done very well for almost twenty years now (good example of a great reissue series - The Monkees also on Rhino). I highly doubt anyone was trying to break the mold here (it's obvious they wouldn't know how). I'm just shocked that these were so poorly handled on several levels, with so many (intentionally made or not) mistakes. The band and it's fans simply deserve better.

Let It Be

(Originally released: Twin/Tone 10/2/84) **

The material demands a better reissue. Period.

I've been a fan of this band for a long time, so I was understandably looking forward to proper reissues/remasters for at least ten years. Let It Be may be their best sounding disk and most representative of the band's sound. However, aside from unearthed photos - which are poorly placed inside (with text on the photos?!?) - and better sound than earlier issues on compact disc this reissue simply isn't up to snuff. And Rhino/Ryko are not to blame either. The band has acquired a certain legacy over time and simply deserves much better. First off the bonus track selection is very half-baked. Fans of the band are familiar with their outtakes by now. Let It Be's include "Who's Gonna Take Us Alive" (the best outtake of the bunch stupidly absent), the lyrically alternate version of "Gary's Got A Boner", "Street Girl" (a fine little ditty), the rocking "You Look Like An Adult" (the original version of "Seen Your Video") and a big whoops was the (new) mix of the alternate version of "Sixteen Blue". The same version (did) include Chan Polling of The Suburbs' grand piano through the entire song. A truly beautiful version, and they botched it! Why they included the same version WITHOUT the best part - or at very least a new interesting feature - of the song is simply poor on all counts.

Gina Arnold (author of the pretty decent 'Route 666: On the Road to Nirvana') wrote the liner notes. While sure, it may be sweet and cute for her to recount what it was like to be a Replacements fan twenty years ago (if that's the case for a filling up liner notes why don't a segment of us Replacements fans start sending in our of sweet stories for Tim now?) it doesn't make for definitive liner-notes writing. We still know as much about the album and there's nothing legitimate about why is it's included here in the first place. It has it's place - but not in the liner notes to one of the best albums the 1980's.

Why there was no input from any band member is certainly unfortunate and perhaps even telling. No first hand stories, memories, information of any kind from the band (aside from their ex-manager informing us that the bonus tracks...were outtakes...from the Let It Be sessions). Considering that these reissues have been in the works - or more accurately been touted as "to be released next year" for the past ten years or so - by the time they actually arrive and they don't have the bonus tracks that the fans would hope they'd include or simply expect, it's hard not to wonder what DID in fact take so long? Surely it wasn't the attention to detail. Having said ALL this, it should please a percentage of fans. I'm going to assume that casual fans (do the 'Mats even have casual fans?) of the band should be fine with this reissue.

It's issues (or reissues as it were) like this that prompt illegal trade of this great bands' music and that's not fair to the band or it's fans.

Oh yeah, and the classic iconic cover is now a few shades darker and cropped to boot!

The Shit Hits The Fans

(Originally released: Twin/Tone 1/25/85)

Although this was the last release on Twin/Tone it wasn't part of the reissue series. Hopefully it'll be released legitimately in a digital format once and for all (and with Chris Mars' original pink cover art) sometime soon.

Don't Tell A Soul

(Originally released: Sire/Reprise 2/1/89) **

Okay reissue from The Mats' supposed adult/MOR album.

This album was The Replacements' supposed 'adult, Middle-Of-The-Road, intended for tons of airplay, attract a legion of new fans' album. This didn't exactly happen and it upset some fans to boot. It's not as bad as some will have you believe (a bad album by The Replacements is probably still better than an okay album by several other artists) but it's still a pretty maddeningly-uneven album if there ever was one. "I Won't", "Back To Back", "Anywhere's Better Than Here" and "We'll Inherit The Earth" are hollow, counterfeit rockers and pseudo-anthems written by an artist under the pressure of a label hungry for hits. And what's worse is, if you have any prior knowledge of the band at all, you can here this upon the very first listen.

There are some great songs. "I'll Be You" (the band's only top forty hit)
is a great single. So great that Tom Petty (for whom the 'Mats opened for on this tour) borrowed the "rebel without a clue" line for his "Into The Great Wide Open". "Achin' To Be" contains some cliched lyrics that should make you cringe but Westerberg gives them an entirely sincere reading with a perfect arrangement for them. "They're Blind" is a fine teenager ballad with a late 50's slow-dance backdrop. "Rock 'n' Roll Ghost" and "Talent Show" are both great Westerberg outings that often get overlooked. And "Asking Me Lies" (which plenty of fans have decried several times) to these ears sounds like The Replacements in a good mood re-writing late 70's era Rolling Stones (nothing too cringe-worthy). It's unfortunate that for every great song on the album there's an awful one right behind it. Enough yammering about the original album though.

These reissues have been fraught with various issues (edited tracks, audio drop-outs, poor choice of bonus tracks, corny footsteps ending each album proper which cue the bonus tracks, ill-advised and uninformed/uninformative liner notes, etc.). So much so that one can't help but wonder if any one QC'd (Quality Checked) these before they went anywhere. It looks like that didn't happen. This DTAS disc has a surprising amount of mid-range and the loudness issues (i.e. no dynamic range, everything in the red) is not so much of an issue with this reissue. Although if you're buying this album for the first time: this is the decidedly definitive version. The sound quality on all of the tracks have been somewhat improved and not at all compromised as on reissues of earlier albums.

The band recorded an entire album (plus) with Tony Berg at Bearsville Studios but mysteriously decided to scrap it and start again with Matt Wallace. Only "Wake Up" and the fine "Portland" have been released from these sessions. One would think that a few more could have been included as bonus tracks here but alas, once again, it is not to be. You can only fathom that there's a box set in the works for all these puzzling oversights and glaring omissions.

There's an alternate version of "Rock 'n' Roll Ghost" that could have appeared here, but did not. An alternate version did appear for the vague "We'll Inherit The Earth" (sounding like an entirely different, almost very good, song). "We Know The Night" and "Date To Church" (both also on the 'Nothing For All' comp.) are pretty okay additions but are new no one. A great studio demo for "Talent Show" contains a subtle slide guitar part and shows the song fully-formed. The Slade cover ("Gudbuy t' Jane") is a fine, if insubstantial addition and The Pixies' "Monkey Gone To Heaven' secret reprise at the end is kind of funny.

The failure to include the Tony Berg sessions as bonus tracks leads one to believe (from what was included) that the band was under-pressure, uninspired and creatively scratching it's head, losing what was amazing about the band in the production in the process. Maybe we'll hear an entire pre-Petty tour live show from 1989 to hear what this band really sounded like around this time, one day.

Recommended: Almost no, but just, yes.

All Shook Down

(Originally released: Sire/Reprise 9/25/90) ****

One of the better reissues in this poorly handled series

All Shook Down is some people's least favorite album by The Replacements - I'm guessing they never heard the counterfeit-rock album known as Don't Tell A Soul. However listening to this reissue it's easily the better and more convincing of the two albums song-for-song. Regardless of the state of the band itself, Westerberg's writing was very consistent and at a peak here that I'm not certain he's reached again since.

Now about the reissue itself. I guess we're going to have to believe that the band (Paul Westerberg and company) only recorded sixteen songs for the ASD sessions because that's all that's ever seen the light of day - the thirteen album tracks, "Kissin' In Action", "Who Knows" and the spontaneous goof of "Like A Rollin' Pin" (the latter two not on this release but on their 1997 compilation 'All For Nothing...'). "Satellite" (which sounds great here by the way) was recorded at Paisley Park Studios (Prince's studio) after the ASD sessions. The one impostor here - it was recorded at the Don't Tell A Soul sessions and thus should be on the appropriate disc - is "Ought To Get Love" (with click track and all). The home demos are surprisingly well-recorded and performed (for home demos) and even show Westerberg in fine, confident form (in fact better form as a performer here than he is in the studio/his basement these days). The alternate version of "My Little Problem" (without the Johnette Napolitano vocals) is very frustrating as the bass line is a note off-key throughout the entire song. Either it's a scratch bass-line (the purpose of which is unclear - perhaps a very sloppy guide from Paul for Tommy or whoever was to play on this). Either way it causes one cringe as it's in the same place in the song for the entire song and it's just awful.

These reissues have been fraught with various issues (edited tracks, audio drop-outs, poor choice of bonus tracks, ill-advised and uninformed/uninformative liner notes, etc.). So much so that one can't help but wonder if any one QC'd (Quality Checked) these before they went anywhere. It looks like that didn't happen.

This one is bit better - all things considered. The audio levels are a bit much sometimes leaving tender ballads like "Sadly Beautiful", "Nobody" and the title track begging for some dynamic range - which means there's little difference between the acoustic ballads and upbeat rockers as far as the audio levels are concerned. As for singles like "Merry Go Round", "Happy Town' and "When It Began" these never sounded better. Everything sounds nice and clear while not entirely tampering with the original downbeat mood of the album.

All in all: Very much recommended!

Reviews for Tim and Pleased To Meet Me forthcoming.

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