Friday, July 6, 2012

Pleased to Meet Them

This July 7th marks the 25th anniversary of the release of what is one of the best Replacements albums, 1987's Pleased To Meet Me. I always have a special place in my heart for Tim and Let It Be. Tim was my introduction to the 'Mats in the summer of '91 as they were breaking up, and Let It Be was the next album I bought (one of the coolest album covers of all time!). I remember wearing that Tim cassette out in my car that summer and on drives to and from college the next fall. Anyway, I got into Pleased to Meet Me shortly after that and then eventually the entire discography.

Pleased to Meet Me
, their 6th album, is almost certainly in the top 3 albums of all 'Mats fans. For a band who did things the hard way, shot themselves in the foot, and generally rarely abided by the normal conventions in the music industry, Pleased to Meet Me is the record that perfectly captures this. They finally had their big breakthrough album with Tim, had some videos on MTV, the infamous SNL appearance, etc, so Pleased to Meet Me was the record that was poised to break them even more. So what do they do? Of course, they fired their lead guitar player, Bob Stinson, early on in the recording sessions. And then Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, and Chris Mars reconvened as a three-piece in Memphis with the legendary producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star's Third, etc.).

The album cover design was an homage to Elvis' G.I. Blues, with the picture of Elvis replaced with something more telling. On the left, an outstretched arm showing the sleeve of fancy suit with expensive wristwatch and ring. And on the right, an outstretched arm with a torn sleeve. This was a perfect symbolic representation of what the band was experiencing at that time, with the pressures of being an act on a major label vs. the underground scene to which they still felt they belonged. And the title of the album? That came from sort of a running inside joke in the band. Whenever they'd meet corporate record label flacks, they'd introduce themselves saying, "pleased to meet me."

Myths have persisted about these recording sessions and how drunk and out of control the band was, hence the title of the collection of outtakes called How Did the Vomit Get Up on the Ceiling?" It's the kind of excess to be expected when you give a major label recording budget to a band who burned the candle at both ends on a daily basis. Without Bob Stinson pushing the band to be louder and faster, Westerberg was able to show off more of his pop sensibilities that would define his music ever after.

And the quality of songs picked up where Tim left off. There was the eponymous tribute to "Alex Chilton":

"Alex Chilton" video

And the album closed with a more poppy version of "Can't Hardly Wait" (with horns), than had been circulating on previous demos and live bootlegs over the previous 3 years. And the aforementioned Alex Chilton plays guitar on this track.

"Can't Hardly Wait"

The rest of the album consisted of such fan favorites as "I.O.U", "I Don't Know", "Never Mind", "Valentine", "The Ledge", and "Skyway."  "I Don't Know" highlights the conflicts mentioned earlier. "Should we give it up? / I don't know / Should we give it hell? /I don't know /Are you making a fortune? /I don't know /Or don't you wanna tell?"...."One foot in the door /The other one in the gutter."

Slim Dunlap joined the band for the tour for this album and remained the lead guitarist until they called it quits in 1991. Slim is recovering from a stroke now. Mars has been a full-time artist for over a decade. Tommy Stinson is still the living embodiment of rock and roll, playing in Guns N' Roses, Soul Asylum, making good solo albums, and occasionally still recording with Westerberg. And Westerberg? Well, he still writes and records fairly regularly and hopefully we'll get to hear those songs at some point and perhaps even see him play live again.

Slim, Paul, Chris, and Tommy

Tim and Let It Be are better albums and other fans may prefer different albums in their catalog more than Pleased to Meet Me, depending on what era the band was in when you started following them. But if I were to pick out one album and the story behind it that would perfectly sum up the band's career, it would be this one. And considering how they sort of petered out on their subsequent 2 records (although they did finally score a top-40 hit after that), you could say Pleased to Meet Me captured their last moments of greatness together. When it comes to their releases, Tim was a life-changer for me. But Pleased to Meet Me was the album where I really felt like I was able to "get" who these guys were and what they were really about.

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