A certain type of nostalgia usually arises whenever The Replacements are discussed. Someone will probably release a sigh of empathy and disappointment — feelings for a band that flirted with mainstream success throughout the ’80s but never quite made it. To everyone rooting for The Replacements throughout the decade, the band probably seemed more content to ruin its chances at success than it was to gun for the mainstream.
Beginning in the Minneapolis hardcore punk scene, The Replacements quickly forged a name for themselves with their rough delivery and alcohol-fueled energy. With raw, youthful exuberance, frontman Paul Westerberg’s brilliant songwriting and the rising popularity of similar-sounding college radio favorites like R.E.M., it seemed that the sky was the limit for the famously inebriated band.
By the time 1985’s Tim came out on Sire records, the band had a slew of rough-cut albums to their name — most notably the classic Let it Be from the year before. But Tim was the band’s most cohesive and best-written effort to date, showcasing Westerberg and the crew in their top form. The Kiss covers and instrumental punk experiments that had decorated their earlier releases were abandoned for a collection of well-crafted songs and an energetic chemistry that immediately cast the band in a newly accessible light.
Westerberg was always at his best when he interpreted the turbulent and conflicting feelings associated with teenage life, and Tim in particular showcases his knack for molding it all into poignant and insightful lyrics. The boyhood narrative of “Kiss Me on the Bus” recalls the schoolyard jitters of young love, supported by a jangly chorus complete with sleigh bells. The anthem-like and aptly titled “Bastards of Young” speaks to the post-Baby Boomers with lyrics like “Unwillingness to claim us / We got no war to name us.” It emerges as a bitter interpretation of young adult life similar in style and sentiment of Richard Hell & The Voidoids’ “Blank Generation.”
Westerberg was as sarcastic as he was charming, particularly with his send-up to flight attendants in the hilarious “Waitress in the Sky.” In this song, Westerberg’s adolescent brand of humor fit perfectly with lead guitarist Bob Stinson’s loose-cannon playing.
Apart from Westerberg’s clear evolution in songwriting, Tim also showed a leap in production, employing a heavy dose of reverb to create a dreary, late-night haze reminiscent of The Smiths’ Meat is Murder or The Queen is Dead. The extra echoey boost coating each instrument’s presence makes the album sound like a touched-up live recording. Westerberg’s vocals and guitars bleed together fantastically in more upbeat numbers like “Hold My Life” and “Left of the Dial,” while quieter moments in songs like “Swingin’ Party” and the barroom ballad “Here Comes a Regular” give the listener a breather.
More than anything, Tim is a portrait of the band when it was neither too polished to be meaningful nor too beer-soaked to be intelligible. Released between the classic, albeit spottier Let it Be and the somewhat porcelain and misguided Pleased to Meet Me, the seminal Tim was the most focused effort the band would ever produce. Straddling both punk and 1950s rockabilly, the record’s unique amalgamation of rock influences set the stage for the alternative music movement of the 1990s, with Westerberg’s influence in particular being felt through acts ranging from Nirvana to Uncle Tupelo.
Plagued by their antics both on and off the stage, The Replacements are easy to overlook — especially the humble genius surrounding Westerberg. With their in-the-moment intensity, brutal honesty and unique charm, The Replacements have created one of the most genuine examples of rock music, providing a musical standard for bands ever since. With Tim, the band cemented an admirable legacy, their drunken snickers looming contentedly left of the dial.