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Remastered ‘Mats — a vein to be mined

Look, I’m the last (first?) guy whose appetite should be whetted for any new Replacements product or news: I wrote a book on the band last year, and went on a book tour that took me from sea to shining ‘Mats sea, where I me

Look, I’m the last (first?) guy whose appetite should be whetted for any new Replacements product or news: I wrote a book on the band last year, and went on a book tour that took me from sea to shining ‘Mats sea, where I met fans of all ages, and heard bands and songwriters play their music like it was the last thing any of us would hear or play. Which is to say I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in the past with a band I loved/love and it was all well and good but I am really ready to move on and get back to the present, and, well … I spent the weekend devouring the reissues. Make that the proverbial long-awaited reissues.

Next Tuesday, Rhino Records will release The Replacements’ first four Twin/Tone Records releases — “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash,” “The Replacements Stink” EP, “Hootenanny,” and “Let It Be” (the band’s final four discs will hit stores in September). These are the remastered beauties that Replacements followers have been waiting for since the band stopped in 1991: Painstakingly and lovingly assembled and produced by the band’s original producer and manager (and Twin/Tone co-founder) Peter Jesperson, the original recordings are augmented by 27 previously unreleased tracks and tons of photos and memorabilia that flesh out yet again what many have called the best band of the ’80s.

On one pass each, they sound titanic and tremendous and better than most of what passes for alternative rock on the alternative rock dial now. And the liner notes prove yet again that The ‘Mats remain one of the richest cultural moments to write and talk about, because they are still a vein to be mined, a mystery to be unraveled, and a source of inspiration for anyone who revisits or comes across them for the first time. To wit, in anticipation of next Tuesday, here are a few excerpts from the liner notes:

Dave Ayers (“Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash”): It’s plainly their most natural, euphoric breakneck rush to nowhere in particular. It was, not coincidentally, before anyone outside a tiny local fan club had bothered to utter, much less write, a single word about any of it. And everything that was to come is already clearly in place. “Sorry Ma” was our sudden, crude awakening to the band’s rare smarts and low/high humor, its classic speed and power combo, impeccable taste, and unshakable disdain for tastefulness.

Trouble is, there are now two and a half decades of broken bottles and analysis to ford just to find a clear spot suitable to revisit “Sorry Ma” and all it portends. Sacred and scourged, these Replacement bones have long since been picked clean, their marrow dried, chopped, and snorted by an industry, press, and public who, with this band as with maybe no other, never wearied of “what gives?”

Terry Katzman (“Stink”): A brash blast of impulses, “Stink” would set many standards that other bands would try in vain to match. In a flash the band dissed just about everything they could think of. Youth angst communicated from a killer band with a gifted songsmith at the helm, Westerberg, Stinson, Stinson, and Mars seemed destined for greatness. And, lest you think the band was a one-dimensional bunch of cads, they had a “tender” side to show as well. Watch out when the laser hits “Go,” dear listener, for you will be amazed all over again. With this track Westerberg inaugurated a new, more personal composing style. Set among these other high-octane rockers, “Go” is a diamond in the rough and owes much of its success to the ensemble playing that was The Replacements.

P.D. Larson (“Hootenanny”): The Replacements onstage in those early years were truly transcendent. Personally, I had never witnessed anything like it. Seeing The ‘Mats back then often was a life-changing experience—it almost single-handedly transformed my 15-year “hobby” as a music fan into a full-blown, lifelong obsession, if not a second career. And I certainly wasn’t the only one knocked for a loop. In the wake of this juggernaut came new bands, writers, fanzines, record labels, marriages … and, yes, a future legend, although you never think about things like that when they’re happening in front of you, even when you have a strong hunch that it’s history in the making.

Yes, the ‘Mats were capable of that kind of power: when they took the stage, things happened. It’s almost scary 25 years later to think of how often the small but absolutely smitten army of locals lucky enough to see The ‘Mats in their heyday was frequently experiencing one of the best live bands on the planet. Not bad for a bunch of “miscreants” (which is how they would later be referred to in a famous Village Voice cover story) who were still largely unknown—even in their hometown, where classic rock and the locally grown purple sounds of the Prince Nation were the dominant musical forces.

Gina Arnold (“Let It Be”): Recently, a student at the university where I teach rhetoric and writing came up to me and — perhaps having heard from someone that I once had an interest in popular music — said, “I just heard a band I think you’d really like. Do you know The Replacements?” I wanted to reply, “Do I know The Replacements? Are you kidding? I am The Replacements.” But of course I didn’t; it would’ve sounded psycho. Did I know The Replacements? Jesus! Only the way you know all those little code words we now use to unlock our computers: first pet, name of elementary school, favorite food. Did I ever listen to The Replacements? Not exactly: I glugged them down like Powerade after a particularly grueling marathon. Did I play them constantly on my personal, pre-iPod sound systems, in my car, in my dorm room, in my head? Sure: in the same spirit that a prisoner of war in a locked-down cell sends out faint signals to the outside world … hoping and praying they’ll be heard but feeling more certain they’ll just become silent pings going off in an earless stratosphere. Did I see them when they came to town? When The Replacements come to town, the world stopped cold.

That was the thing about The ‘Mats. You didn’t just listen to them or like them or drop by a gig every now and again. You simply were them. You wouldn’t have said that about R.E.M. or Sonic Youth or Husker Du or any of the other well-known bands of the era, much as you may have loved them. You wouldn’t have said it about Springsteen, Madonna, or Prince. Unlike those acts, compelling as they all were, once you fell into The Replacements vortex, you took on their attributes — and their battles. It was sort of like that episode of the X-Files where hapless city workers are usurped by an amoeba in the sewer. You didn’t listen to The Mats; you channeled them.

… It’s not that they were ahead of their time, either. They weren’t. Like plenty of unique bands and artists, they were out of time — on their own planet, unaware of all possible connections to planet Earth. Their planet was called Minneapolis, and lest the assessment of it as a place unconnected to Earth sounds belittling or patronizing, recall that in the early 1980s — the time of high Reaganism — Minnesota was like the last liberal frontier. It was the only state in America that didn’t elect Reagan in 1984. (Remember those “Don’t blame me, I’m from Minnesota” bumper stickers?) It’s where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in “On The Banks Of Plum Creek,” and in addition to being the ancestral abode of Nellie Oleson, it’s also the home of Prince. Those things may seem contradictory, but all of them speak to the location’s deep-seated isolation and its residential hardiness, not to mention a steadfast adherence to the core American values of independence, individuality, and the pursuit of happiness. In Minneapolis, in the early ’80s, the herd mentality upon which the music industry bases its entire structure was strangely absent. There was a vacuum, and nature abhorred it. Since that void was filled by The ‘Mats, understanding Minneapolis may be the key to understanding the band and what makes them so great.