Dead Man's Pop

Dead Man's Pop

Any gaudy reissue of a classic album pegged to a round-number anniversary can relive history; this new version of The Replacements’ Don't Tell a Soul rewrites it. Originally released in 1989, the band's sixth full-length album neither brought the famously self-immolating Minneapolis band to the level of stardom its radio-friendly sheen coveted nor satisfied the fans—and band members—who were skeptical of anything resembling encroaching professionalism. The main attraction of this 60-track set—a new mix by original album producer Matt Wallace, culled from thought-to-be-lost master tapes furtively squirreled away in guitarist Slim Dunlap's home—negates and erases the dated, label-mandated polish added by Chris Lord-Alge and restores the album to its intended sequence. The genuinely revelatory result wrings out Don't Tell a Soul to its essence, leaving as consistent and rich a collection of songs Paul Westerberg ever wrote, the way the band meant for them to be heard, free from the baggage of dashed hopes and cemented narratives. Which is not to say that unadorned this becomes Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash Again or some other simulacrum of their scrappy Twin/Tone Records days. The songs are still big-tent, heart-on-sleeve pop songs that shouldn’t have needed any help getting on the radio. What this new mix does is restore the crucial balance of earnestness to ambivalence—the only non-ingestible chemical formula that mattered to The Replacements. And it presents a tantalizing what-if to the band’s narrative, 30 years later. While that certainly sounds like enough to help relitigate a legacy, there are also 20 demos and outtakes (including tracks from doomed sessions with producer Tony Berg and a predictably sloshed late-night throwdown with Tom Waits) and a full concert from June 1989 that serves to remind how the band’s slouch toward respectability had, thankfully, its limits. What this deluxe edition of Don’t Tell a Soul doesn’t have, however, is Don’t Tell a Soul, which may be a first in the annals of catalog reissues. Replacements biographer Bob Mehr, who helped assemble the collection, talks through a handful of tracks that help retell the story. Talent Show “Matt attempted to mix the album very quickly back in 1988. When we discovered those versions in Slim’s basement, that was the spark for letting Matt finish his mix. ‘Talent Show’ is one of those songs where the new mix reveals a totally new song and spirit and something that was a little bit hidden, and my reaction was something along the lines of, ‘Oh, there they are.’ You could finally hear, after 30 years, the character of the band, and that is what had been subsumed in the more commercial, radio-ready mix. You’re hearing so many discrete parts and instruments, all these choices that conspired to make it sound like a classic Replacements record as opposed to something that was kind of an anomaly in their catalog. Hearing how radically reworked one take can be was just a revelation for us, that there was a totally different record hidden beneath the previous mix. It’s unique for a band to have an opportunity 30 years later to put something back out into the world the way it should have gone had there been no outside factors or external pressures.” Last Thing in the World “The Replacements made two attempts at this record, first with a producer named Tony Berg at Bearsville Studios in upstate New York. I think the band went a little stir-crazy in the woods. ‘Last Thing in the World’ is an unreleased Paul Westerberg original that has never appeared in any form that’s another view of what the record could have sounded like. He was always a fan of ’70s AM radio, so there’s an element of that in the song. He is such a sponge of different things, so when you listen to that song, it also bears a resemblance to this Connie Francis song ‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.’ I have a sense this is one of the songs his mom used to sing to him when he was a young child and it lodged in his brain. And it has this punk edge that makes for a really interesting track. I think a lot of what this whole record is about is that he wanted to make a classic pop record but pop had a very different meaning by the tail end of the ’80s. And if The Replacements were going to be making the kind of pop music they liked, it was a dead man’s game, hence the title.” We Know the Night “The band and Tom Waits had kind of a mutual admiration society going from afar in the ’80s. A mutual friend brought them together in the midst of the Don’t Tell a Soul sessions in Hollywood. They got together and drank whiskey and played cover songs and played each other’s songs. One of those, ’Date to Church,’ was released as a B-side at the time, but also there’s a couple versions of a Replacements original, ‘We Know the Night,’ that somehow got left off the record. It’s really an extraordinary fly-on-the-wall moment hearing these guys work up this celebration of nocturnal living. Who better to rhapsodize about that than Tom Waits and The Replacements?” The Ledge “The live show captures them at an interesting moment: The three core members had been together for 10 years. They’re rock solid and know each other’s moves intuitively, but there’s this relatively new element with Slim playing with them. It was probably the peak of their popularity, but it’s a college campus gig, so there’s a sort of uncontrolled element. I think some people think of this lineup as not being as wild as the previous version, but because Slim was such a rock-steady presence, it allowed Paul to walk the tightrope in a more extreme way. During ‘The Ledge,’ they start to have a little equipment trouble, and in a weird way that almost drives the tension. Where something like that would have thrown them off in the past, instead they refocus that anger and energy back into the song and take it to a whole other level. You really hear both the wildness and how locked in they were and how free and fun they could still be, even at a point where they were supposed to be getting more professional.”

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