By: Jon DolanIf the Get Up Kids got low-down, if the Hives had bad teeth, if theStrokes had ever worked at Denny’s, they’d still look pretty weakup against the Replacements. Punk rock of the 1980s produced somemagical responses to Reagan-era alienation, but no one everbellowed into the void like these Minneapolis miscreants. Soft boysin hard shells, they drank too much and treated their instrumentslike annoying ex-girlfriends. Yet when existential benchwarmer PaulWesterberg would uncork a lyric like “Wanna be something / Wanna beanything,” and Bob Stinson’s guitar would start to wail,these schlepps became superheroes. Alienation melted into empathylike Lake Minnetonka in spring. And beneath the ice, the six-pack.
The proof is in these remasterings of the band’s first four heart-splitting records–their squalling 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot toTake Out the Trash, 1982’s thunder fart Stink, 1983’s junk-sale genre-hopper Hootenanny, and the 1984 teen-spleen classicLet ItBe (Restless Records). Sorry Ma set the template: Bob Stinson does a repo job on the trash-guitar canon; his 15-year-old brother,Tommy, straddles his bass like a runaway snowmobile; Chris Mars drags his drums across the tundra; and Westerberg eulogizes stalleddreams in the voice of a confessional drink-and-dialer. He falls for “the girl who works at the store” in “Customer,” getsgypped at a rock show in “I Bought a Headache,” and trumpets “I tried suicide, well, that ain’t no fun” on “I’m in Trouble.” Stinkupdates the New York Dolls’ power slop and–from “Fuck School” to “God Damn Job”–runs the gamut of suburban loserdom, sweeteninghardcore’s punch.
Hootenanny blurts along in the same fuck-us vein, but Westerberg had matured beyond self-loathing rants and cheap gags. Thehipster-bashing “Color Me Impressed” vents fruitfully, and the lonely, synth-scarred “Within Your Reach” is the greatestbreakup-mix-tape capper of the decade. And if it’s cheap gags you crave, “Lovelines” reads the personals over a boogie beat, whilesurf-rocker “Buck Hill” salutes a Minnesota ski slope. At this point, the Mats decided it was time to inherit the earth, and thewonderfully open-souled Let It Be is their masterpiece. Jumpy country-rocker “I Will Dare” gets high on first-date jitters, and theTom Waits-like “Androgynous” and teary “Sixteen Blue” address teen-boy sexual confusion with gutsy directness. Let It Be teems withso many jokes and topical references–tonsillectomies, answering machines, Kiss, MTV–that it’s practically a hip-hop record. Asemo and indie rock reject a real world they’re too bummed to face, these records continue to resonate because of how passionatelythey embraced everything within their reach. They demanded more than someone else’s used life. They got it.