The Replacements | Pleased to Meet Me-Deluxe Edition | (Rhino/Sire)
4 out of 5 stars
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The paradox couldn’t be starker.
The cover of The Replacements’ fifth release from 1987 famously showed only the arms of a handshake between a punked up, torn sleeved rocker and a slick, suited, lavish watch and ring wearing executive (likely a record company honcho). That photo personified the often uncomfortable truce both participants agreed to. It also made clear what every Replacements fan already knew; that these scruffy, unkempt and often liquored up Midwestern ragamuffins felt compromised and uneasy in the major label world to which they were recently introduced.
Now bring a pricey “deluxe” version of Pleased to Meet Me into the picture to make that contradiction even starker.
It’s worth noting that the original eleven tracks barely broke a half hour. This expansive overhaul (remixed original songs plus demos, B-sides, rough mixes and outtakes) expands that relatively compact set to 55 selections (29 previously unreleased), filling three CDs and a vinyl record. Add a sumptuous 12” x 12” hardcover book with 18 pages of interviews, rare photos and an extensive back story on the album’s formation for what is, at least for the present, the final word on arguably The Replacements’ last great collection. All that’s missing is a live show from the Pleased to Meet Me tour. Maybe that’ll arrive in 2027, the disc’s 40th anniversary. Fans may remember this album had already been lengthened to 22 songs in 2006.
The band was in a state of flux when they headed into Memphis’ Ardent studio over three decades ago. Lead guitarist Bob Stinson had just been fired, leaving them a trio. Stinson appears on seven of the 15 “Blackberry Way” demos that comprise the second disc, but his input was minimal. Only a handful of those songs were fleshed out and found their way onto the final product, which makes them of particular interest to hardcore followers. These performances are raw but surprisingly well recorded for demos. They capture the heart of The Replacements sound, arguably better than the Jim Dickinson produced, buffed up recordings.
The third disc collects 23 “rough mixes, outtakes and alternates,” almost all helmed by Dickinson, most never made it past this stage. All are worth hearing, if only to understand how much music was created for what resulted in a fairly short album.
The audio on the eleven songs that ended up on Pleased to Meet Me has been remastered and sounds even more present and alive than on the original. Dickinson played keyboards (under the alias East Memphis Slim), and brought in horns and strings to a few tunes, which Westerberg, perhaps hesitatingly, approved of.
There was plenty of diversity in the material too. The opening “I.O.U.” was a classic Replacements rocker (“Want it in writing/I owe you NOTHING,” Westerberg sneers) in the mode of their previous release Tim.
If there is a single example of the threesome at its most melodic and punchy it’s on “Alex Chilton,” a gem many consider their finest moment. The acoustic “Skyway” remains a melancholy, moving ballad and “Nightclub Jitters” gets a noir jazzy infusion complete with sax solo, different from anything in their catalog. Add “The Ledge,” a gripping tale of teenage suicide, and the more commercially oriented “Never Mind” to display just how far frontman singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg’s writing had progressed. And just to prove they were still snotty punks there was the Iggy Pop-styled “I Don’t Know” along with the glammy, riff rocking “Shooting Dirty Pool” and the rocker “Red Red Wine” with its hooky chorus ripe for audience sing-alongs.
It remains a great, perhaps the greatest, example of The Replacements’ studio output. Whether you need all the extras, most of which are solid and worth hearing, depends on how attached you are to the contents and band. However, the detailed information in the accompanying book, and the many previously unseen photos, will deepen your understanding of the outfit, especially how they related to producer Dickinson during these storied sessions.
It just might be worth taking the $65 plunge for this sumptuous package.