Shhh…Don’t Tell A Soul
The Replacements much maligned album gets the release it deserved…30 years later
The Replacements much maligned album gets the release it deserves…30 years later.
The Replacements (Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars, Slim Dunlap and Bob Stinson) have a fan base that can best be described as committed. We committed, of which I am one, include some of the biggest stars in music, movies and television, but it’s mostly music nerds like me.
Probably no band of the generation they call X better captures that “us against them” spirit. And if you’ve ever felt that, then The Replacements were your band. If you still do, they’re still your band.
Their sixth proper album (seventh if you include the ep Stink) and third Sire Records release was Don’t Tell A Soul. Replacements fans seem to fall into two camps with this album. In one camp is the “pffft, that album sucks” contingency and in the other is the “I hate that fucking album.”
I liked the record. A lot.
I liked DTAS because I heard it for what it was — an honest, if misguided, attempt to gain a larger audience. And unlike a lot of music nerds of that era (or any era really) I wanted my favorite bands to have success. The Replacements were then, and still, are my favorite band. I considered it a mission to get everyone to hear what I heard and feel what I felt (I still do).
The Replacements just released a 30th-anniversary box set of Don’t Tell A Soul called Dead Man’s Pop.
It contains all the tracks from the original DTAS album re-mixed by original producer Matt Wallace (Faith No More, R.E.M., John Hiatt). And the set also includes versions from the aborted Bearsville Studio sessions with producer Tony Berg.
There’s also a drinking/recording session with Tom Waits, a live show recorded at the University of Wisconsin in 1989 and some other odds and ends from that period of the band.
Dead Man’s Pop is unlikely to win any new Replacements fans but not because it’s bad. Quite the contrary, it’s very good. It just seems The Replacements are destined to be one of “those” bands. You know the band that’s revered and respected but never quite “made it.”
They’ve cast a long shadow and, I suspect, will continue to do so.
In an old bootleg cover of The Replacements “Color Me Impressed” you can hear Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy yell:
“Everything we do is because of The Replacements.”
There are now three versions of DTAS out there. There’s the original 1989 released version, produced by Matt Wallace and mixed by Chris Lord-Alge and now the two versions on Dead Man’s Pop: one re-mixed by producer Matt Wallace and the other the abandoned Bearsville sessions with producer Tony Berg.
So What’s the Better Version?
Dead Mans Pop captures the ‘mats spirit more than the DTAS version that made its way into stores in 1989. It’s just a better representation of the songs and the band.
To be clear, I’m speaking about the Matt Wallace re-mixed version.
Listening to the Tony Berg songs makes me thankful that those sessions imploded.
However, even if the new 2019 Matt Wallace version had been the proper release in 1989, it wouldn’t have been much of a career boost for the band. We can “what if” that to death but let’s not.
Having said that, the Matt Wallace produced DTAS album released in 1989 did contain the single “I’ll Be You.” The Replacements weren’t a “singles” band, but this song ended up being as close as a “hit single” they’d ever have. It made its way on to the Billboard Top 100 and, in 1989, that meant something.
This is where the DTAS discussion can get a little murky.
Yea, you can toss a bunch of shade on mixer Chris Lord-Alge. But it’s undeserved. His CV is amazing (Prince, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen) so he was doing what he did…and what he thought was best. Is it good? Objectively speaking? Yea. Subjectively speaking? No.
He mixed a good sounding record but sucked all the soul out of it in the process.
However, that being said, it’s his version that yielded a Billboard-charting single. Also, it’s worth noting that DTAS sold better than any of The Replacements albums that preceded it or came after it. So his effort to produce a more “radio-friendly” Replacements worked.
Not for everyone. In Bob Mehr’s exhaustive biography of the band, Troubled Boys, leader Paul Westerberg said of the released DTAS, “I thought the little things I’d cut in my basement were closer to what I wanted.”
If folks want to gripe about a shitty sounding Replacements record, have a listen to the bands’ first release for Sire Records, Tim. Fans love this album. I do not. Tim has some of the bands best songs, but it’s obvious that producer Tommy Ramone’s (yep, he’s a founding member of that band) hearing was shot by then.
Unfortunately, Tim sounds like it was recorded in a giant Budweiser can.
Nonetheless, who is to blame for Chris Lord-Alge’s mix of DTAS? I don’t think it’s Chris Lord-Alge. He did his job and did it well. He was probably just the wrong person for the job. But, unlike Tony Berg, he got to finish the job.
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to imagine the minions at Sire Records getting their little cloven hoofs involved. Sire had to be a little cranky about not having a hit album from the band. After all, industry impresario Seymour Stein signed The Replacements thinking they were the second coming of American rock and roll.
When they signed to Sire Records, I don’t think anyone would’ve argued differently. It would make sense then that for this make or break third album they had to pull out all the stops.
The already mentioned Tim didn’t sell. And after firing founding member Bob Stinson (stories vary on whether he was fired or left) the three-piece (Westerberg, Stinson, Mars) went to Memphis to record the follow up Pleased to Meet Me with producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star, Alex Chilton, Toots and the Maytals). That didn’t sell either.
To be clear, both Tim and PTMM sold but neither became the break out hit album that Sire (or, arguably, the band) wanted.
After the success of their former tour mates, and friends, R.E.M. scoring a big record contract and a hit album with Green and British college rock darlings XTC scoring a hit with “Dear God” and U2 becoming, well, U2; by everyone’s estimation, especially Sire Records, The Replacements should’ve been the next big band.
It was their time:
After enlisting guitarist Slim Dunlap the band split Minneapolis to record their fated third album for Sire. They ventured to the upstate New York hippy haven of Woodstock and Bearsville Studio with producer Tony Berg. If you want to read about those aborted sessions, pick up Troubled Boys.
It did not go well. No, no, it did not go well at all.
And the Berg produced songs on Dead Man’s Pop provide the evidence. Tony Berg was not the right person for The Replacements. If you want, listen here for the three versions of the “hit” single “I’ll Be You”.
The drunken Tom Waits session on Dead Man’s Pop is fun — this yielded the playful “Date to Church.” It’s also a fun, if nerdy, peek into some ‘mats playtime. Some of the other songs, like “Portland”, have popped up here and there over the years.
The bands’ live set from the University of Wisconsin on Dean Man’s Pop captures The Replacements at their best. The stories about the drunk brats who only played covers, poorly, exist for a reason. They happened.
However, this is not that band.
This DTAS tour would be the last time the band ever played with this line-up — Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars and Slim Dunlap. And by all accounts, they were on their best behavior and tried as opposed to self-destructing. Listening to this set, you can hear it.
By the time All Shook Down was released in 1990, drummer Mars had left, leaving members Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg along with hired gun, Slim Dunlap. By then Westerberg had sobered up and was eager to work alone. All Shook Down is a Replacements album in name only, it’s the precursor to the Paul Westerberg solo era.
Dead Man’s Pop is a treat for the committed Replacements fan. However, the real find here is the Matt Wallace re-mixes of Don’t Tell A Soul.
Rock and roll shouldn’t be perfect. The 1989 version of Don’t Tell A Soul tried to be perfect. The 2019 Matt Wallace re-mixes does not attempt to be perfect. And by doing so, his mixes create a much better album. You see, The Replacements were never a perfect band and they never pretended to be. I might argue, they never wanted to be. They were perfectly imperfect and it’s these re-mixes that capture that quality.
Dead Man’s Pop proves what I knew in 1989, that Don’t Tell A Soul is one of The Replacements best albums. Full stop.
It also solidifies what we committed ‘mats fans already know…The Replacements are one of rock and rolls’ best bands. Full stop.
They’re probably just the best band you’ve never heard of.