Has a great band ever been less well-served by its producers than the Replacements? From the moment the iconic Minneapolis punk band made the jump from their hometown indie label to Sire Records, a string of producers, engineers, and music biz executives tried to guide them into making the record that would break them into the mainstream. Capturing the Mats’ incendiary power should’ve been straightforward; the results, though, ranged from acceptable (“Pleased to Meet Me”) to disastrous (“Don’t Tell a Soul”).
Case in point: “Tim,” their 1985 major-label debut. Produced by Tommy Erdelyi (better known as Tommy Ramone, the Ramones’ original drummer), it contains some of frontman Paul Westerberg’s best songs, which means they’re some of the best rock songs of the last quarter of the 20th century. You would think the result would thunder forth from your speakers.
Bafflingly, the record sounded terrible — thin and punchless, especially weak on the lower end. The sound has almost no presence, as if you were hearing it from a different room. The band was never happy with the mix, blaming Erdelyi’s allegedly failing hearing (a charge the producer always denied). Westerberg remembers hearing it and “thinking it sounded kinda like crap, but not wanting to go back in,” he told the band’s biographer, Bob Mehr. “We were just glad it was done.”
Happily, “Tim” is now getting a second life, courtesy of Rhino Records, which did a similar excavation of “Don’t Tell a Soul” in 2019. Erdelyi died in 2014, so Rhino brought in mixing engineer Ed Stasium, who worked frequently with Erdelyi, to revisit the original multi-track tapes of the “Tim” recording sessions. He discovered a bevy of parts that Erdelyi omitted from the final mix, most from lead guitarist Bob Stinson, who was largely absent from the recording sessions. Stasium also stripped away much of the tinny digital reverb used in the original and widened the album’s restricted sound picture.
The new version is the centerpiece of Rhino’s 4-CD, 1-LP “Let It Bleed” Edition of “Tim,” out Friday. (The name comes from the band’s joke that, having earlier made a record called “Let It Be,” the next one needed to be “Let It Bleed.”) It is nothing short of a revelation: Stasium has found and restored the brash, powerful rock record that had been hiding under Erdelyi’s sonic plastic wrap. Everything hits, especially the bass and drums. Anthemic songs like “Hold My Life,” “Left of the Dial,” and “Bastards of Young” finally get the lift-off they needed. Even the album’s throwaways, “Lay It Down Clown” and “Dose of Thunder,” get some fresh life.
On every track there are new sounds — mostly Stinson’s lacerating guitar but also new backing vocals and, in the case of “Little Mascara,” an extended coda. This kind of retouching has to be done with care, and I have a few reservations, particularly about “Here Comes a Regular,” Westerberg’s despondent postcard from the local bar. But in virtually every other instance, Stasium’s instinct is dead-on, the new additions improving on the originals rather than distracting from them.
Also in the package are demos and the results of early sessions that were produced by Big Star’s Alex Chilton. And there’s a raw but perfectly listenable recording of a live show from January 1986 at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro. The Mats’ inconsistency as a live band is legendary — brilliant performances followed shambolic ones by turn (mostly the latter). On this night, thankfully, they were close to peak form, slashing through their catalog and adding improbably great covers of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Nowhere Man.”
For completeness’ sake, there is, finally, a remaster of the original “Tim.” But it should really be treated as a historical artifact. Freed, finally, from its sonic shackles, “Let It Bleed” should be considered the definitive version of this essential album.