All For Nothing/Nothing For All

by Mike Pelusi

I wasn't old enough to experience The Replacements in their time, and all the Pavement albums in the world will never change that.

Nevertheless, there is something in their music that is timeless, so the above doesn't really matter. Sure, maybe they were "The Hardest Drinking Band in Show Business," but they were also one of the most important bands of the God-forsaken '80s, not to mention all time. The Minneapolis quartet - nicknamed the 'Mats - walked that fine line between hellion abandon and somber introspection that, for people like me, represents rock'n'roll at its finest

...this is some of the most overwhelmingly emotional music of its time.

Within their music - the sloppily exuberant post-punk anthems, the irresistible power pop, the heartbreaking ballads - lies youthful passion and boredom:

(The scene) It's 5:00 p.m. on a summer day. Supper's almost ready. Just enough time for you to play one more song. Will it be the hilariously intoxicated "Mr. Whirly?" Or maybe the uplifting pop promise of "I Will Dare?" Or the snarling anti-anthem "Bastards of Young?" Or maybe "Sadly Beautiful?" Maybe not that one-it's hard for you to get through it without getting all choked up. Damn your life, it's so hard sometimes, sitting around here, waiting for all pervasive "something" that's happened to everyone else to happen to you. All that's left for you to do is watch the sunset and think about yourself too much. Why don't these things happen to you? You need a haircut. Maybe you should call her. No, you're not going to do that. Not now, not ever.

Reprise Records has released All For Nothing/Nothing For All, a double-disk compilation documenting the 'Mats '85-'90 tenure at the Reprise subsidiary label Sire with a disk of album tracks (can't really call them hits...) and another of the standby "previously unreleased."

Any 'Mats fan worth his/her salt, however, will recognize All For Nothing/Nothing For All as inherently flawed, containing nothing from the band's celebrated heyday at the Twin/Tone India label. Classics like "Color Me Impressed" and "Within Your Reach" are nowhere to be found here; nor is anything from Let It Be (1984), considered by most to be the band's finest album.

Taken at face value, however, the collection does the job. When you walk away from it, you're pretty much convinced that this was one of the greatest, most influential bands of the post-punk era. And they expose most of their followers as the pretenders that they are.

On disk one (All For Nothing), you'll find the snarling "Bastards of Young" and "Anywhere's Better Than Here." Less than a year after the 'Mats took a permanent vacation, the blisteringly loud rhythms and naval-gazing, apathetic lyrics would equal big bucks and recognition. Listening to these tracks now, ironically, the band's pleads of alienation assume levels of depth and pathos that the superstars that followed them cannot hope to reach. From "Bastards of Young:" "Dreams unfulfilled/Graduate unskilled/It beats pickin' cotton/Waiting to be forgotten."

However, there was much more to this band than all that. From the sympathetic character studies "Achin' to Be" and "Merry Go Round" to the haunting, detail-filled ballads "Skyway" and "Here Comes a Regular," the band - led by their oft-brilliant frontman Paul Westerberg - filled their repertoire with more diversity than first glance might indicate. The first buds of puppy love are irresistibly documented on "Kiss on the Bus." "Alex Chilton" - the band's high-spirited fan letter to the mercurial power-pop forefather - remains as potent a rock song about rock music as any Chuck Berry classic.

All For Nothing/Nothing For All does have its flaws. But it also proves the irrevocable fact that, quite simply, The Replacements matter.

On disk two (Nothing For All), we get glimpses of Reprise-era 'Mats at their most unvarnished, and discover the thick reservoir of soul that ran through the band's core. Seemingly simple folk-rock ditties like "Birthday Gal" and "We Know the Night" contain overwhelming nuances of hurt in Westerberg's cracked, cigarette-stained tenor.

Nothing For All also revels in the band's triumphs as a rock band. "Wake Up" is snarling punkabilly unlike much else. The 'Mats even manage to make the Disney tune "Cruella DeVille" rock. Other highlights of the second disk include rough early takes of "Can't Hardly Wait" and "I Don't Know" (the latter being a hidden track).

So, they stood on the brink of breakthrough for years and then...nothing. No matter, this is some of the most overwhelmingly emotional music of its time. All For Nothing/Nothing For All does have its flaws. But it also proves the irrevocable fact that, quite simply, The Replacements matter.

This picture of Paul Westerberg is from the April 18th, 1996 on-line issue of The Times.

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