There are days when I’m convinced the best thing that ever came out of Minnesota was Paul Westerberg.
This album came out in late 1985, and it’s the first real solid song collection from the Replacements. Both 1983’s Hootenanny and 1984’s Let It Be are brilliant, but they have their rough edges too. On the other hand, The Mats were a mess of a band, and it was a mess that worked for them. I recently listened to Hootenanny for the first time in years, and I’d forgotten just how good an album it is. (“Love Kitten! Oh yeah, oh yeah, Kitten! Oh yeah, oh yeah!”, for a badly edited taste.) Rock music critics melted over Let It Be like an orb of whipped butter on a short stack of buttermilk pancakes.
But there’s something serious about Tim. As a record, it goes beyond late adolescent angst and wanders into the land of young adult unease and melancholy. Which is no longer cute. And which no one really cares about. (This probably explains why so few paid sustained attention to Scott Miller’s “Young Adult Hurt Feeling-a-Thons.”) There is a dark and haunted quality to this entire album. It’s not the mess of Let It Be, but it’s not trying to please in the way that Pleased to Meet Me or Don’t Tell a Soul were. Now, that may be because the tape of Tim generally found its way into my car stereo was at 2:30 in the morning as I was somewhere on I-5 or U.S. 101 or possibly in-between, on highway 198 heading to Coalinga or making my way through a dark and foggy Paso Robles, as I wound the long road from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey to my parents place in Upland, California. This album just does dark and fog for me.
I couldn’t find the actual Tim recording of “Here Comes a Regular” online, which is a pity. It’s a beautiful recording. The acoustic guitar sounds and feels so tight, like the strings are about to break. They swirl and echo, like a cold gentle wind blowing autumn leaves around. Westerberg’s voice also sounds like its about to break when he sings “Well, a person can work up a mean, mean thirst / after a hard day of nothing much at all,” or as winds himself up for the refrain, “Everybody wants to be special here / they call your name out loud and clear / here comes a regular / call out your name / here comes a regular / am I the only one here today?” He isn’t just walking into a bar, he’s walking into the only place in the world he belongs. Adding to the swirling tightness of the guitar is a fragile and echoey piano solo, and a very basic basic synthesizer — fake strings — very carefully filling in the bottom. What strikes me as stunning about this recording is how little there is to it. Westerberg’s guitar, his voice, the synthesizer, the piano. The production is even fairly minimal — on the album version, it’s all down the center. Even the synthesizer fills in some of the sides. But it’s basically a mono recording, even as it echoes.
Here’s Westerberg playing this solo in 2005, I think.
I had the fortune of seeing The Replacements perform live twice – in San Francisco in 1986 during their tour for Tim and in 1987 in Reseda during their tour for Pleased to Meet Me. And both times they were relatively sober and played fairly solid sets of album material. (The Replacements were well-known for getting stinking drunk before going on stage, and playing nothing but covers. Twin/Tone put out a cassette-only recording of such a performance, The Shit Hits the Fans.) I’ve not kept up with Westerberg’s solo career. Maybe I should.