If you’ve never heard of The Replacements then you’ve never felt alone, alienated or out of place. Gob less ya. But if you have heard of them and listened to them then you know they are one of those once in a lifetime bands. But don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with a historical piece about the band. I’ll leave that for some Ivy League editor from a music magazine that’s only worth reading for the articles about anything other than music or some bearded, irony riddled, skinny jean wearing trust fund music blogger putz in Brooklyn.
I just want to tell you about The Replacements new EP “Songs for Slim”. First things first, it is a benefit for former Replacement guitarist Slim Dunlap, who replaced original guitarist Bob Stinson.
On February 19 of last year Slim suffered a serious stroke and, as a result, needs long term medical care. Obviously, this being the American health care system and all, his insurance doesn’t cover all the long term care he needs. So former Replacements manager and Minneapolis music guru Peter Jasperson stepped up and rallied the troops and thus “Songs for Slim” was born.
But “Songs For Slim” is not just a Replacements reunion EP, the concept “was devised to raise money for Slim and his family by having various artists cover his songs, pressing them as a limited edition series of split 7” vinyl 45s in beautiful, numbered picture sleeves and putting them up for auctions.” Artists participating include Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Craig Finn, Tommy Keene among others as well as a host of local musicians, all covering some of Slim’s songs.
“Songs for Slim” is an auction based endeavour, so the fruits go to the highest bidder. On the block first was a limited edition run of 250 numbered copies of a brand new, deluxe 10” vinyl EP package by The Replacements, their first new release in over 20 years. Of course it only made sense that The Replacements had the first release. Turns out, ‘mats fans came a running, raising over 100K on that auction. The EP became available for digital download on Tuesday, so that 100K should continue to trend upwards.
Hearing brand new Replacements music gives me the same feeling I get every two weeks when I get my paycheck. It’s that feeling of the knots and anxiety leaving your stomach, that feeling that “OK, I’ll be able to get by for a little bit longer.” To be clear, my paycheck is not enough to fly to Fiji for the weekend (not even close) but it is enough to keep me alive (albeit, barely). In other words, hearing brand new Replacements music makes the intolerable more tolerable.
The bad news, Chris Mars participated fully, but did not play drums with Tommy and Paul. He contributed a song, did the artwork and was present. Mars has become a rather well established painter and visual artist and, by all accounts, has little interest in playing drums.
The good news, Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg reunited for a day last fall and cut some new songs…and it sounds pretty effing good. To be fair, they did reunite for some contractually obligated “best of” that came out awhile back but those songs were pretty mediocre*. These are not.
In typical ‘mats fashion, no one from the band has said much beyond the coy acknowledgement of the “Songs for Slim” existence. For the geeks and ‘matheads, Westerberg friend, touring guitarist and replacement Replacement Kevin Bowe talked a little about it here. (worth reading if you are a fan)
Songs for Slim
Song by song.
Busted Up (Slim Dunlap)
Having the EP open with a bluesy piano boogie seems about right for the first Replacements recording in 20 years. Sure I wanted some kick ass power chords that matched my excitement, but that would have been completely out of character. “Busted Up” is lyrically pretty simple, it’s about the shitty feeling after you loose someone. ’nuff said. You can almost picture the guys sitting around warming up with this track. It’s a great intro to what follows.
Radio Hook Word Hit (Slim Dunlap)
While Chris Mars didn’t record with Tommy and Paul, he did cover a Slim song. This is that song. The one thing that has always stood out about the Replacements is the same thing that stands out about any great band. The sum is greater than the parts. Which in no way means the parts are inferior, as this song proves. This is a catchy little number that fits nicely here. The title says what its about.
I’m Not Sayin (Gordon Lightfoot)
Now, THIS is The Replacements. The count in, the chords, the sound, the simplicity and the genius. While it’s not a Westerberg composition, it’s certainly a REPLACEMENTS song. The trademark brattiness, contradiction, irony, playfulness, honesty and soul are all signature markers of a Replacement track and they are present, loud and clear, here. In a perfect world, this would be a hit. We don’t live in a perfect world.
Lost Highway (Leon Payne)
The song was initially made famous by Hank Williams and is a tribute to Slim’s love of rootsy country music. Diehards know it is not the first Hank song the band has covered, “Hey Good Lookin” was a live staple and recorded around the “Let It Be” era. Obviously, the song is rooted in country & western and then put through the filter of The Replacements where it comes out something entirely different. Not better, not worse, just different. It’s fun and playful which brings us too…
Everything’s Coming Up Roses (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne)
According to the Kevin Bowe interview, this is the one song they spent the most time on and it begs the question, WTF? Look, hearing the band cover the leather lover Sondheim classic is great. Again, all the Replacement trademarks are there, the irony, the humor, the playfulness, etc. One of the reasons it works so well is because you don’t expect it to work, at all. The Replacements were masters of making shit work that has no business working. This song should be a disaster and it’s not. Quite the contrary and while I remain befuddled by the choice, they did what they always do, they made it their own.
So, is the first Replacements release in 20 years worth the time and money investment? Without a doubt. If you are a fan. If you’re not a fan, odds are this won’t convert you. That’s not to say it’s “only for the fans”, it’s certainly not. The band and it’s die hard fan base (the previously mentioned ‘matheads) share a common sensibility which is “Great, check it out, if you like it, awesome, welcome…if you don’t, bugger off.” But if this is your entry to the wonderful and whacky world of the Replacements, you’ll probably walk away scratching your head wondering what the fuss is about.
But don’t forget, this is about much much more than a Replacements reunion, it’s about helping an ailing musician and his family get the type of care they need and deserve. So, pony up the money regardless you cheap bastards.
* – even mediocre Replacements is better than most peoples best stuff.