Happy 30th Anniversary to The Replacements’ fifth studio album Pleased to Meet Me, originally released July 7, 1987.
I discovered The Replacements when I was living in the firetrap basement of an illegally-subdivided college apartment in Binghamton, NY. I don't remember how I came across "Can't Hardly Wait" but I imagine that a punk rock angel came down from Heaven and whispered it into my ear as I slept. The timing and circumstances were perfect; I was 22, simultaneously angry at the world and dizzy-in-love with the hope and promise of post-college life, my best days were spent lounging around on a beat-up couch with my best friends, talking about nothing.
The Replacements have always managed to capture the sound of young romance better than anyone. Their music is pure and emotionally complex while still embracing a wild, working class sound. And what was once wonderfully raw on Let It Be (1984) and Tim (1985) was perfectly refined by the recording of Pleased to Meet Me, which incorporates elements of jazz, a couple saxophone licks and even a horn section. But they never lose their scrappy punk sound, which remains true to their Midwestern roots, a heritage that kept them from falling prey as yet another Ramones knock-off.
The 'Mats formed in 1979 when Paul Westerberg heard brothers Bob and 11-year-old Tommy Stinson rocking out with their band Dogbreath on his way home from working as a janitor at Republican U.S. Senator David Durenberger's office. Drummer Chris Mars invited Westerberg to join them, and following a drunk and disorderly performance in a church basement in June 1980, they changed their name to The Replacements, releasing their debut album Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash in August 1981.
Following the success of much-loved albums like Let it Be and Tim, by the time they got to Pleased to Meet Me, Bob Stinson had been fired for his excessive drug use and unwillingness to play the ballads. He died at age 35 in 1995, his body wrecked from years of drug and alcohol abuse. The demos for Pleased to Meet Me were his last recordings with The Replacements.
The album kicks off with the rollicking "IOU," inspired by a scene Westerberg witnessed when a fan accosted Iggy Pop for an autograph, receiving instead the note "IOU Nothing." That's punk as fuck and so is this song, complete with grinding guitars and Mars' kick-in-the-teeth drumming. It's a sophisticated sort of punk song, disorderly without being discordant, angry without being petulant.
That lyrical mastery can be traced to Westerberg's grand love of Big Star's Alex Chilton, giving him a guitar on "Can't Hardly Wait" and a whole song. "I never travel very far / without a little Big Star" is pretty good advice. And though Westerberg muses that it "might be cool, babe" if Chilton died in Memphis, Chilton died in March 2010 in New Orleans at age 60.
But it's not just the rough stuff. Pleased to Meet Me has three of The 'Mats greatest love songs, starting off with "Valentine." Westerberg is a master of picking out the little things that make love so grand. It's in small gestures rather than big ones, quiet moments instead of grand proposals and some of the greatest goddamn descriptions ever put to music. "If you were a pill / I'd take a handful at my will / And I'd knock you back with something sweet and strong" Westerberg sings. Could there be any better way to describe the one you love?"
Similarly, on "Skyway," Westerberg lets his Minnesota flag fly in a lovelorn ballad set high above the city. For those of you not in the know, the Skyway covers over 11 miles of downtown Minneapolis to allow people to travel in even the coldest of weather without having to ever set foot outdoors. But for Westerberg, it was the perfect setting for an unrequited love story. "There wasn't a damn thing I could do or say / up in that skyway" he mourns. It's a uniquely Midwestern and wholly authentic piece of working class songwriting.
But it's the closer "Can't Hardly Wait" that brings it all together. It's a scene you can taste, "ashtray floors, dirty clothes and filthy jokes" poignant and simple. Westerberg proves that a love song doesn't have to be fancy to be romantic. Just three words, "can't hardly wait," written during light though torn curtains. Give me this over flowers any day.
The Replacements broke up in 1991, shortly after Mars left the band. They each had solo projects, Tommy Stinson's band Bash & Pop had a song on the Clerks soundtrack, while Westerberg's "Silver Naked Ladies" was featured in Tommy Boy, produced by Lorne Michaels, who famously banned them from SNL after a stumbling-drunk performance in 1986. Westerberg and Stinson reunited in 2012 to record Songs for Slim, an EP to benefit guitarist Slim Dunlap following a stroke, and toured in 2013 and 2015. Westerberg has said the band is working on new material.
Too many punk albums age poorly. Once adolescence is over and youth has given way to experience, they can often seem petulant. But Pleased to Meet Me is even more important at 30 than it was in 1987. It's an album I discover something more to love about with every listen, aging with the listener, a masterpiece for a band in a genre that is too often associated with rowdy behavior over dedication to craft. Listening to it even as I write this, it never feels like I'm back in that dingy apartment, but I still get that full-heart feeling as though I'm hearing them again for the first time, every time.