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One Good Dose of Thunder

 

The Replacements: Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? The Best of the Replacements

Rhino, 2006

Rating: 4.4

 

Posted: July 3, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Considering that the Replacements were one of those bands whose influence far outweighed their actual commercial success, the idea of a "best of" compilation makes a certain sense. If there was ever a band in need of a tidy introductory retrospective for newcomers, it was this one. But the fact of the matter is that the Replacements were the kind of band that stubbornly defies the conventions of a "best of" record.

Put aside the impossibly prickly issue of personal choice and the fact that the group really had no "hits" to speak of. The Replacements were a messy band, and divining their strengths means diving head first into their messy catalog, sifting through the scrappy, live-in-the-club feel of their early Twin/Tone records; the lackadaisical ambition of Let It Be; the tricky lightning-in-a-bottle balance of major-label debut Tim; the precisely sloppy abandon of Pleased to Meet Me; the shoot-for-the-stadiums craftsmanship of the underrated Don't Tell A Soul -- all of it. One disc simply isn't going to do justice to all of those albums -- you'd need a box set for that.

But (passive-aggressive backhanded compliment alert!) the unfortunately titled Don't You Know Who I Think I Was does as good a job of that thankless task as any compilation could. Yes, it's possible to quibble about omissions, particularly among the later, major-label material (where's "Hold My Life"? Why "Skyway" and not the furiously immediate "I.O.U."?). But as a sampler platter, Don't You Know hits the major highlights, tracing the band's arc from disheveled, mercurial drunks to polished indie-pop-rockers: the offhand recklessness of "Color Me Impressed," the surprisingly adventurous "Within Your Reach," the smart restraint of "Here Comes A Regular," the irresistible bash and pop of "Alex Chilton" (Not to mention the contrast of the Bob Stinson era to the work of Slim Dunlap, the now-deceased fireball's -- no pun intended -- replacement as lead guitarist.)

The disc also does a commendable job of mapping Paul Westerberg's evolution as a songwriter, from the disaffected yearning of "Unsatisfied" to the tossed-off mixed metaphors and wordplay ("Shiftless When Idle") that reached its apex around Tim and Pleased to Meet Me, sanded down and refined for "Achin' to Be" and "I'll Be You" from Don't Tell A Soul (both included here.) And it serves as a welcome reminder that the disappointing All Shook Down -- essentially a Westerberg solo album with the Replacements name slapped on -- had its bright spots (the enduringly catchy "Merry Go Round").

Two new tracks, "Message to the Boys" and "Pool & Dive," serve as bait for jaded devotees who otherwise don't need such a compilation, having all their favorite songs already committed to iPod. They're fun, buoyant numbers, not as polished as the Don't Tell A Soul material, but mature, enjoyable numbers with appreciable hooks and a hint of a sparkle in the band's collective eyes. They're dessert -- light, diverting, not too heavy or formidable, happily unmindful of the imposing legacy of one of rock's most praised yet unsung bands.

As a whole, the 18 tracks revisited here are as good a place to start as any, and can't help but whet the appetite of potential newcomers, or even intrigue those fans who either stuck to the early days or never ventured further back than Tim or Let It Be. Are they the best songs? That's an unfair question for a band as personal as this one: every fan's notion of "best" is going to be different. But they definitely show (or remind) listeners what all the fuss was about, and that's all you can reasonably ask such a collection to do.

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