Irreplaceable: Catching up with the 'Mats

Irreplaceable: Catching up with the 'Mats

For the hardcore, old school, half-sloshed and hard-of-hearing Replacements fanatic, Rhino’s recent remastering run-through of the legendary Minneapolis quartet’s entire back catalog has been a cause for (drunken) celebration. Not simply for the muscular-yet-respectful reworking of the albums’ endearingly haphazard production, but for the trove of unreleased tracks and oft-revelatory liner notes—did you know, for instance, that the ’Mats once drove blood-spittin’ Kiss cretin Gene Simmons from CBGB’s with an aggressively awful cover of “Black Diamond”?

With this, the second set of updated discs, Rhino completes the job they started earlier this year, giving the “deluxe” treatment to all four of the band’s major-label albums. As with the subtle work they did on the earlier Twin/Tone recordings, Rhino’s crack team of engineers don’t overdo it here—the bass response and overall impact of Replacements anthems like “Bastards of Young” (from Tim) and “The Ledge” (from Pleased to Meet Me) are noticeably enhanced, while the band’s loosey goosey guitar leads and country-tinged six-string strumming have been lovingly spit-polished, increasing the overall brightness and clarity of lead ’Mat man Paul Westerberg’s affecting acoustic fare (Don’t Tell a Soul’s “Achin’ to Be,” Tim’s “Here Comes a Regular”). Ironically, however, the album that stood to benefit most from a sonic overhaul, 1990’s dispirited All Shook Down (really a Westerberg solo outing in all but name) was released on iTunes and other online outlets with the master volume set so low you can barely hear it—which is, perhaps, Rhino’s way of making fans purchase the actual CD.

But again, it’s the bits, pieces, odds ’n’ ends attached to these classic indie-rock coasters that really make them worth owning. In particular, the early studio demos appended to Tim—produced by legendary popster (and Replacements song subject) Alex Chilton, and featuring the exquisite, fleet-fingered fretwork of original ’Mats guitarist Bob Stinson—come close to justifying the cost of the entire disc.

In fact, it’s a testament to the power of this still-vital band that songs that never even saw a proper release, like “Nowhere is My Home” from the Chilton sessions, or “Photo,” a studio outtake from Pleased to Meet Me, are as good as anything the band released in its prime, and far outshine anything from the latest Killers or Fall Out Boy albums.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go crack another beer (or six) and listen to “Left of the Dial” until I pass out. It’s what Bob would have wanted.