The Replacements – Pleased To Meet Me

Pleased To Meet Me (1987)


1. I.O.U. 2. Alex Chilton 3. I Don’t Know 4. Nightclub Jitters 5. The Ledge 6. Never Mind 7. Valentine 8. Shooting Dirty Pool 9. Red, Red Wine 10. Skyway 11. Can’t Hardly Wait


What can you say about the album that has everything? OK, it doesn’t have everything—there’s isn’t a single keytar solo, for instance, which is nothing if not a colossal error in judgment on the band’s part—but what Pleased To Meet Me lacks in the presence of Bob Stinson and gritty basement production value (and keytar, I guess), it makes up fro a hundred times over with some of the most perfectly constructed and executed alt-rock songs you will ever hear in your life.

Yup, Let It Be may have solidified Paul Westerberg as the eternal Voice of the Underground or what not, but 25 years later into the information age, when the closet thing we have to a cultural underground is a bunch of fucking niche memes on Tumblr and selling out barely means anything anymore, a collection of songs flush with that old left of the dial spirit doesn’t make it inherently more impressive to me than an opposing, slightly slicker but more pleasingly diverse and more astoundingly catchy collection of songs is. Which is precisely what Pleased To Meet Me is for me. And yet, even with that major label, early digital production (which is unsurprisingly a bit flat but is still a vast improvement over Tim), Paul remains every bit the underdog he always was. It’s right there in “I Don’t Know,” which, at its heart, is a clear-eyed, emotional distillation of exactly what the Replacements were going through career-wise at the time – “one foot in the door, another one in the gutter,” trying to grapple with the idea that by making the major label jump and ostensibly pushing for greater commercial success, they might be losing track of what they started out as (or, more accurately, who their original fans desperately wanted them to be). But it’s done in such a hilariously trenchant, snotty way that, even with that sax overdub (!), it’s entirely clear that they’re still the same old drunken brats they were back on Sorry Ma. Try asking my parents if that droll, drooped-lipped repeated backing vocal refrain sounds familiar. And then there’s the fact that Paul spends a good chunk of the record vying to be considered in the shadow of Alex Chilton, the guy who was doing the tragically unsung underground rock genius thing in Big Star a decade before Paul was – and probably writing better songs, too (try as he might, Paul never penned anything as brilliant as “The Ballad Of El Goodo”… then again, has anybody, ever?). There’s the just about perfect slice of power pop that is “Alex Chilton,” for one, and then they even get the man himself to play guitar on the all-time classic “Can’t Hardly Wait”… consider the torch passed.

Still, there’s no denying that the Mats very nearly sound like real, mature adults on Pleased To Meet Me. Indeed, this is high-class production all the way, as the band jetted down to Memphis’ famed Ardent Studios to record with the legendary Jim Dickinson (who had, keeping with the trend, produced Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers). And add that to the fact that with Bob and the unhinged tendencies he brought to the table now officially gone for good (the band recorded the album as a three-piece), there’s a level of professionalism here that older fans might find frightening. I mean, holy bejeezus, there’s a horn section and a string section on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which can either be seen as a fitting tribute to the rich legacy of classic rock and soul records associated with their new producer and the studio where they were recording, or as a blasphemous abomination. People get really worked up about the use of horns on records by garage bands, which to me is like calling a baseball player a sellout for wearing batting gloves because goddamn it, Rogers Hornsby didn’t use ‘em, and if bare hands were good enough for him, then by god, you’ll swing without ‘em and get splinters and like it! Nah, horns have enhanced some of the greatest rock records of all time – including this one. Though, to be honest the embellishments on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a song that had been around since the pre-Tim days and actually appeared on The Shit Hits The Fans, might be an example of playing it a little soft… the stripped down, harder rocking demo they did for the Tim sessions when Bob was still on board is preferable, in my opinion. But it’s such an incredibly classic song that it’s virtually impossible not to fall in love with it no matter what form it may take.

Now, there are moments where I do miss Bob’s input a little bit, like on the harder, faster cuts “I.O.U” and “Shooting Dirty Pool.” But those moments are fleeting, because, firstly, Paul does quite a fine job handling the guitar duties all by his lonesome, and secondly, he does an even better job jamming in a bunch of irresistible hooks in where Bob’s wild solos used to go. Like, yeah, it might have been nice to hear Bob tearing it up on “I.O.U.” (allegedly inspired by an autograph Paul once received from Iggy Pop reading “IOU nothing”), but it’s got like four of the catchiest vocal hooks Paul ever wrote condensed into just three minutes and thus any extra fretwork would just be taking up space… man, when Paul launches into that totally unexpected, country-ish refrain at the end, it’s like being transported into some higher dimension of awesome. Likewise, “Valentine” and “Never Mind” rock convincingly but are so unbelievably melodic that listening to them is like what I imagine smoking crack must feel like. Though I don’t plan on testing my theory anytime soon. Elsewhere, Paul compensates for Bob’s absence by broadening his songwriting palette in to realms that Bob would never have ventured into in the first place. Specifically, the charming, cool piano jazz of “Nightclub Jitters” (you can practically hear Ron Burgundy telling Tommy to “take the bassline for a walk”!) and the stunningly beautiful acoustic ballad “Skyway.”

And yet, for all its range, hooks, and effort, Pleased To Meet Me fizzled sales-wise and did not become the commercial breakthrough it seemed perfectly poised to be at the time it was released. Its ultimate failure in that respect has done wonders for the band’s indie cred, I guess, in the years since. But man, I wish Pleased To Meet Me had sold 800 million copies and everyone had the chance to hear it. It would have deserved it, too.

One Comment

  1. victoid wrote:

    Alex Chilton was always one of the best American rockers whose career success never matched his considerable influence. Big Star was never more than a regional/cult act despite enormous talent, high quality product and a persistent residue of influence. Gratifying that Westerberg is an acolyte. But no reference to Chilton should go without mentioning his work as the young teen voice and face of The Box Tops. Now there was a band with influence and success. They were and still remain huge. Even though he didn’t write any of their hits, we all knew him to be the One. His vocal on “The Letter” is iconic- a sixteen-year-old white kid who sings like Otis Redding?! As Diddy said in a far freakier context, “This is what the music business is all about!”

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