Front cover of ‘Tim’
by Ed Biggs
These kinds of stories just don’t happen anymore. The universal acclaim and critical attention given to their previous album Let It Be the year before allowed The Replacements, one of the most volatile, unpredictable and legendarily drunk bands in American history, to make the step up to the big time in 1985. Just like their cross-town Minneapolis rivals Hüsker Dü, they left their indie label Twin/Tone and signed to a major, Seymour Stein’s Sire. Tim, the resulting fourth album, would prove to be their last to feature their original line-up, as founding guitarist Bob Stinson, who was being marginalised through the band’s evolving, maturing dynamics in any event, would be fired before they recorded their final three records. But as a swan-song for the band’s youth – and those of their loyal fans – Tim was a deeply moving epitaph, full of counter-cultural anthems and the odd wistful confessional from their creative fountain Paul Westerberg.
The album houses what is arguably The Replacements’ most famous song, the college radio love-letter ‘Left Of The Dial’, a song positively glowing with its sense of righteous opposition to the mainstream. Descriptive lyrics like “Passin’ through and it’s late, the station started to fade / picked another one up in the very next state” combined with the heckling “which side are you on?” of the refrain and a killer riff made it an instant underground classic. Other highlights include the alienation anthem of ‘Bastards Of Young’, which I first encountered via The Cribs’ faithful cover version, is absolutely deathless, with Westerberg’s roared “we are the sons of no-one” still making me want to throw myself around a room many years later. Opener ‘Hold My Life’ is a trademark bar-room brawl of a track with a catchy chorus, followed quickly out of the traps with ‘I’ll Buy’.
Elsewhere, The Replacements do things more gently. The light, melodic guitar on the schooldaze story of ‘Kiss Me On The Bus’ has a hint of ‘50s revivalism, with Westerberg admitting “I can’t stand no rejection” as he begs the object of his affection not to show him up in front of his friends. It has a ton of adolescent charm, a perfect counterpoint to the swagger of Let It Be’s sturdy opener ‘I Will Dare’. The mid-album ‘Swingin Party’, vaguely Smiths-y with its jangling guitar, is pitched absolutely beautifully by Westerberg’s vocals, displaying just the right amount of humour and vulnerability. The shuffling rockabilly feel of ‘Waitress In The Sky’ is another effortlessly great moment, as is ‘Little Mascara’, told from the point of view of a single mother whose partner has abandoned her.
There also needs to be a mention for the closing track ‘Here Comes A Regular’, played solely on an angelically-tuned acoustic guitar with the perfect amount of reverb to make it sound beamed in from another dimension. A desperately sad song about drinking buddies growing up and moving away, and having to leave one’s youth behind in general, the protagonist is lonely and left behind, seemingly talking to his absent friend but really to himself. Alone with his regrets (“all I know is I’m sick of everything that my money can buy”), he can’t quite leave say goodbye to that life himself: “a drinkin’ buddy that’s bound to another town / I’ll take a great big whiskey to ya anyway”. It’s an incredibly poignant moment with which to end, and elevates a very good album to the status of indie classic.
Where Tim is notably different from Let It Be is in the trashy, throwaway moments of fun. On their first three albums, The Replacements had always leavened whatever seriousness they wished to communicate with the inclusion of one or two tracks of daftness (or vice versa). The likes of ‘Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out’ or ‘Gary’s Got A Boner’ lit up Let It Be just as much as ‘Androgynous’ or ‘Sixteen Blue’, but the equivalent moments on Tim – the rattling rave-ups of ‘Lay It Down Clown’ and ‘Dose Of Thunder’ – don’t shine with the same lustre, and sound like a band straightening out. Arguably, it was this transition that was alienating Bob Stinson and pushing him apart from his colleagues.
Something had been unquestionably lost in this respect, and quite a few Mats fans, who had fallen in love with this ramshackle aspect of the band, would mourn that absence on Tim. However, any band that achieves cult success before mainstream exposure undergoes a similar shift in their fanbase, with old fans bemoaning the influx of new fans who have never heard of their favourite group before now. Things don’t stay the same way forever – a truism that The Replacements acknowledge in heartbreaking fashion on the album itself.
But where Tim was stronger, even more so than on Let It Be, was in its spirit, and it traded in that rebellion for even more of that sincerity that came to them so naturally. Tommy Ramone’s roomy, spacious production didn’t take anything away, merely providing more amplification for their sensitive side, and Westerberg’s writing was as self-aware and self-effacing as it ever was. It may have appealed to a wider audience, but that audience still consisted of the same kind of people despite the superior distribution available to them on Sire, and The Replacements never sold out that part of their sound, never allowed that part of their personality to be watered down.
Tim and its predecessor usually compete neck and neck at the top of the list of most Mats fans’ favourite albums. But in truth they each perfectly encapsulate a different side to the band, and are great for different reasons. Let It Be is their youthful, reckless spirit, while Tim is more mature, representing their soul, appealing to society’s eternal misfits and outsiders. Thirty years after its release, few indie acts have managed to achieve the same balance in their sound, and the album remains a blueprint for great music. The Replacements would struggle on in the face of diminishing critical praise until they finally split in 1991 following the muddled All Shook Down, but their twin career highlights in the mid-1980s are essential for any indie fan.
Influenced by: The Beatles, New York Dolls, Big Star, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Tom Petty, R.E.M.
Influenced: Nirvana, The Lemonheads, Guided By Voices, The Strokes, Wilco, The Cribs
Listen to Tim here, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: 30 years old, 30th anniversary, album anniversary, Bob Stinson, Chris Mars, classic album, Ed Biggs, Paul Westerberg, The Replacements, Tim, Tommy Stinson
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