Dead Man’s Pop (4-CD Box)

The Replacements

Rhino, 2019

REVIEW BY: Pete Crigler

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/06/2020

The backstory behind this mammoth set is as exquisite as the music. In 1988, the Replacements went to Bearsville in upstate New York to work on their third major label record with producer Tony Berg, who was then an unknown, young producer. The band and producer immediately butted heads in the woods, and after two months of sessions, the band fired him over drinks in a Minneapolis bar. They were then hooked up with another upstart, Matt Wallace, who had yet to hit it big with Faith No More; his biggest credit at this point was The New Monkees. The band was pissed but had to make the record regardless, so they hunkered down and made what they hoped would be a timeless sounding record. Wallace had wanted to mix the record but was turned down by management and label in favor of Chris Lord-Alge, the so-called “lord of the mix,” who condensed and compressed the hell out of the music and in the words of author Bob Mehr, “made a record doomed to sound like 1988.”

When Don’t Tell A Soul was released in the spring of 1989, it contained the band’s most popular hit at the time “I’ll Be You” and sold the most of their entire catalogue up to that point; it also allowed them to tour with Tom Petty. But people hated it! Even our esteemed Chris Thelen hated this damn thing.

Needless to say, this record’s reputation has suffered as a stain on the band’s catalogue. Cut to almost thirty years after the initial sessions when Slim Dunlap’s wife Chrissie found boxes of tapes in their basement. When asked about them, Slim told her they were tapes of Matt Wallace’s attempts to mix the record that he had confiscated and taken back home so the band wouldn’t erase them. Chrissie got the tapes to the proper people and Wallace was finally given a chance to mix the album the way he would have liked to in the first place. Hence a four-disc box set complete with unreleased Tony Berg tracks and a full session of outtakes recorded with Tom Waits when everyone in the studio was completely shitfaced. Wrapping up the set is a complete live recording from 1989 that had previously only been available as a promo freebie given away to radio stations. Well, how does all of this sound?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From the get go, “Talent Show” sounds more ramshackle than it previously did with a lot of background noise to enlighten the track. This was never one of my favorites on this disc, but at least it has a modern sound to it and doesn’t sound like a crock of AOR ‘80s MTV schlock. “I’ll Be You” sounds more like classic sloppy Replacements than it ever previously did, and that’s a credit to Wallace’s ear being able to remember how he felt the songs should have sounded once correctly mixed. It’s now hard for me to imagine this version being played on AOR radio alongside John Mellencamp, Petty, and ZZ Top.

“We’ll Inherit the Earth” sounds like an outtake from Pleased To Meet Me and that’s damn fine with me. This, alongside “Rock And Roll Ghost” and my personal favorite, “Achin’ To Be,” are the true standouts here. But it’s just nice to hear the songs reconfigured as I always thought most of the original record sucked.

Some of the material, like “Darlin’ One” and even “Back To Back,” were not on par with the band’s best work. It felt like a group struggling through the later period of their career and just going through the motions. This would be even more evident on All Shook Down, which is essentially a suicide note of a record. Still, it’s nice to hear some fresh takes on these songs and making them sound better as a result, even the wannabe R&B swing of “Asking Me Lies.” Some of these songs are still not the best in the band’s catalogue, but to hear them fresh without sounding like some overwrought U2 ‘80s album is quite the relief.

The Bearsville sessions have no punch, no kick to them. They sound like a band going through the motions as slowly as possible. “I’ll Be You” is the worst example of this; listen to this version and the one that wound up on Don’t Tell A Soul and it’s a 180-degree turnaround from the Bearsville slog.

At least “We’ll Inherit The Earth” has some life to it and served as a good template for the Wallace version. It’s clear with the Bearsville sessions that the band still needed to work on the material and really get the real punch of what Westerberg was shooting for.

Drunken recordings made with Tom Waits are a fun aside from the work going into the actual sessions. “Lowdown Monkey Blues” and “We Know The Night” are just fun but completely inessential. It’s just nice to hear some drunken caterwauling for no other reason than they admired each other’s work.

The final two discs are a live show in Madison, Wisconsin in June of ’89, and the amount of fun and power heard in the music can’t be denied. This was one of the nights the band was actually on fire and not drunkenly stumbling their way through the set. Overall, the show adds to the ambience of the band’s chaotic final years.

In essence, this new mix is a godsend for people who more or less hated the original DTAS but it’s definitely not for the uninitiated. Excellent work on the packaging and liner notes makes this a must have for ‘Mats fans!

Rating: B+

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