The Replacements were not power pop but that never stopped power pop fans from falling in love, like the rest of us, with the Mats' rough-and-tumble punk songs. This love is the raison d'etre for New Jersey label Face Down 's new 24-song Replacements tribute album Left of the Dial.
Looking back, Paul Westerberg's band never rose above the radar. For the ten years of the 80s, they put out a steady stream of records, some slipshod, others spotty, all inspired. The records never sold much. Yet the band's legend grew, eventually to define a new brat-punk sublime. No one really knows why this happened. Maybe it was the tunes, the spectacle of too much beer and eyeliner, or bad behavior, or the live shows, or fanzine buzz.
Join any Mats chatroom today, and you'd drown in faux-academia discussions and personal histories. How did you get into the Mats? The bands on Left of the Dial have their own stories to share. Singapore combo Popland's Kevin Mathews: "1990, with my first CD purchase, All Shook Down. I went backwards from there". Adam Marshland from California group Cockeyed Ghost confesses: " I came to the Replacements late in my musical life...probably about '93, when Rivers Cuomo loaned me his copy of Tim, which I never gave back." Then there's Rhode Island band Marlowes, who checked: "I first heard I Will Dare on a college radio station and was completely sucked in by the infectious guitar riff. I immediately went out and bought Let It Be and have been hooked ever since."
To be sure, the Replacements wielded a huge hook. Although they never bothered to package their songs for radio, they never left home without their melodies. Not surprisingly, given the size of the Mats legend, the power pop bands on Left of the Dial are marquee'd by a balloon of conservatism and insularity. If you're not tight with the Replacements' legacy, the initiates-only vibes the record gives off may make you wonder what the fuss is about. On the other hand, if you know the words to Shiftless When Idle and Here Comes A Regular, you might quickly grow impatient with the workouts here.
Half of the tributes on Left of the Dial sound deferential. Kiss Me On The Bus, I Will Dare, Bastards of Young are not timid covers, but they fire no heartbeat-accelerating shots. Some of the performances suggest that the younger bands might have been learning the songs for the first time.
There are exceptions. Horndog's Waitress in the Sky dresses the original in a sports bar,no-jackets-required jacket, while Sadly Beautiful by Michigan's Glowfriends is astonishingly transformed by the lead female vocal from April Morris. Popland's version of Swinging Party stays close to the original model. Power pop may be pop's most conservative genre-but Swinging Party's such a great song ("Bring your own lampshade, somewhere there's a party ") that messing with it makes no sense.
So rating this record was tough. I was going to say 5 at first, but I had a second thought. So you want bolder deconstructions? Now what would a techno or goth tribute to the Mats sound like? I shuddered. So, all things considered, 6. - Lee Chung Horn
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