The Replacements: Tim (Re-Imagined)

The American underground music scene was one littered with exciting young bands in the wake of punk rock in the 1980’s. Minneapolis, Athens, New York, and Seattle were just a few of the well known cities bristling with talented upstarts at various points during the decade. Many of these bands took the bait from the major labels and jumped at the chance at the big time. R.E.M. signed to Warner for 1989’s Green after a prolific run on indie label IRS. Sonic Youth jumped to Geffen after releasing 1988’s Daydream Nation. Dinosaur Jr. went for Warner subsidiary Sire in 1991 and released Green Mind. Each of these bands, and many others, achieved varying levels of success after deciding to go to the big time.

In 1985, The Replacements were at their creative peak, and were one of the first underground acts to be lured by a major. 1984’s Let it Be was a quantum leap from their early records. Combining the “power trash” (as opposed to power-pop) they were most known for with a distinct folk influence, as well Paul Westerberg’s sense of angsty lyricism maturing (slightly), the album generated a buzz for the band throughout the country. Major labels came looking, and the band signed to Sire.

What came next was Tim, an album filled with what can arguably be said to be the best set of songs Westerberg ever put together. Unforgettable songs like “Bastards of Young” and “Left of the Dial” were at once anthemic, heartfelt, and accessible. The band once again displayed a strong folk influence on several songs as well. “Swingin’ Party”, and especially album closer “Here Comes A Regular”, are heartbreaking looks a loneliness and isolation, and feature mostly acoustic instruments. They even took a stab at pure pop with the first single, “Kiss Me On The Bus”. All this added up to success for the band that was far beyond what had come before. However, as undeniably great as this album is, it is far from perfect. In fact, with just a few touch-ups I could be writing about one of the best rock albums of the past 25 years.

The first problem that props its head is the production on “Hold My Life”. The song makes a fine opener, yet suffers from a production that fails to capture the urgency the lyric deserves. The reckless abandon drummer Chris Mars attacked earlier songs with is missed on this one, as it clicks along monotonously. The same can be said for Bob Stinson’s guitars, which seem too tame here. Live versions of the song from this era achieve the potential hinted at on record.

The other problem with the album, which was a problem with every Replacements album, is the filler. Each record in The Replacements catalog has more than its fair share of gems, but each has several songs that are far below the quality level set by the best ones. Here the filler quota is met by a trio of songs - “I’ll Buy”, “Dose of Thunder”, and “Lay It Down Clown”. All three would not be missed if replaced by some of the stronger songs from sessions surrounding the album.

So, what could have been? Well like I said, one of the great rock records of all time, that’s what. The Tim sessions yielded many lost gems that would have improved the album had they been included instead of a few of the weaker tracks. So the idea is that if they were recorded with the same spirit as those that were released there would be more of a seamless flow than what these mp3’s can provide. This re-imagined version comes pretty close though. With a tip of the cap to Stylus Magazine’s “Playing God” column, my Re-imagined Tim would look like this:

1. Hold My Life (live version) (mp3) - I wouldn’t replace this song with this particular live version from Maxwell’s (4/2/86) per se, but rather a studio one that adheres to its looser arrangement and rawer performance.

2. Can’t Hardly Wait (Tim Version) (mp3) - the Pleased to Meet Me version is perhaps their most recognizable song, and the best version available. However, in ’85 the band wasn’t capable of its slick sound and horn accompaniment, and this primitive version is brimming with the drunken energy that the Replacements were known for at this point. Known as a great album closer on PTMM, this harder rockin’ version helps get “Re-Imagined Tim” off to a tremendous start. And the myth surrounding this version is great - for a long time it was thought lost after the band said they broke into Twin Tone’s office, stole the tapes, and dumped them into the river because of contract disputes. Eventually though it did turn up on Nothing For All.

3. “Kiss Me On The Bus” - album version. I’m gonna leave it as is, as it was a minor hit, even getting played on Saturday Night Live. However there are some demo versions out there that prove this song started out as a real thrasher, a la “Can’t Hardly Wait”.

4. P.O. Box (Empty As Your Heart) (mp3) - This song may be from just after the Tim sessions, but it does capture the sound of earlier Replacement’s albums. A hard hitting power-pop song that certainly improves on the pointless thrash of “Dose of Thunder”.

5. “Waitress In the Sky” - album version. The fun and, well, somewhat mean kiss off to poor stewardess service. A nice change of pace after 4 straight amped up numbers.

6. “Swingin’ Party” - album version.

7. “Bastards of Young” - album version. Again, no need to mess with greatness. Another one played on SNL.

8. Nowhere Is My Home (mp3) - this song was recorded prior to the band’s departure from Twin Tone, and not only improves on “Lay It Down Clown”, but sandwiched between “Bastards” and “Left of the Dial” makes for one of the great 1-2-3 punches in rock history.

9. “Left of the Dial” - I wouldn’t dare

10. “Little Mascara” - album version. It comes close to having the same problem as “Hold My Life”, but the song is a drop-dead classic, so I’ll leave it alone.

11. “Here Comes A Regular” - album version. One of the great album closers ever.

So, what do you think? Does this version of Tim improve on the classic version?


Ginny said...

fantastic! i was about to go to bed after slogging through my google reader, and this pops up. tim's just about my favorite album of all time, as it's the first 'mats album i ever heard.

i completely agree with you about the three songs it could do without (though "i'll buy" isn't quite as unimportant for me as "dose of thunder" or "lay it down clown").

i don't know if i'd like to hear "can't hardly wait" on this album. after being so used to the pttm version, i just can't get used to the timversion.

Nate said...

I have to say, that's quite the imaginative re-imagining. I'd heard "Nowhere is My Home" and the Tim version of "Can't hardly Wait" before and loved both of them. I think I even like the Tim Version of "Can't Hardly Wait" better than the original, to be honest.

"P.O. Box" though, was quite a surprise. I'd never heard it before and it blew me away.

If Tim had been ordered this way, I think we'd be talking about The 'Mats in completely different terms and Paul would be living next door to Prince, because this would have been one of the best rock albums of all time. Not that it already isn't, but it'd arguably be #1.

James said...

Yeah- I feel really strongly about this post. In the Come Feel Me Tremble documentary Westerberg is being interviewed and is asked to rattle off the first word that comes to mind for each Mats album and for Tim, I think, he says something like "what coulda been".

PO box is really such an awesome song - this album, already one of my all time favorites, really could have been so much better.

Thanks for the comments so far...

Bedazzler said...

It's funny, Tim is one of my least favorite Mats albums...But I love every song on it. I think the whole album is marred by the production - Especially the rockers. Maybe, at the time, I was disappointed that they went to a major - I love Twin/Tone's catalog. I'm really looking forward to the reissues. All of their catalog is mastered so low that you can't listen to them on shuffle or a mix CD. I'd put Pleased To Meet Me & Let It Be over Tim...Maybe even Hootenanny & Don't Tell A Soul. I'm looking forward to sequencing Tim (Re-Imagined) and giving it a spin.

Anonymous said...

Po Box is one of my favorite Replacement songs of all time. Does anyone know if they ever recorded it in a studio? Either way this version is amazing.

James said...

Bedazzler - yeah, I can't wait for the TIM reissue especially....hopefully they can salvage the sound. I've noticed that too with songs from TIM on mixes over the years. Although I don't know how you can like Dont Tell A Soul better than TIM. There's like 4 good songs on there.

To the anonymous commentor - I dont know if PO Box is live or studio - I just listened really close and didn't hear any audience. Maybe it was recorded live in studio? Either way. it's an amazing song - such a lost gem. Maybe we'll get lucky with a cleaner version on a future reissue.

Bedazzler said...

The Obsoletes do a great version of PO Box on their CD "Is This Progress?".