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HomeEntertaintmentThe Chaos and Clarity of the Replacements’ ‘Tim’

The Chaos and Clarity of the Replacements’ ‘Tim’

The Chaos and Clarity of the Replacements’ ‘Tim’

I have adored “Tim,” the 1985 album by the Minnesota rockers the Replacements, for decades — nearly every growl, guitar lick and snare hit have been imprinted upon my memory since I discovered it as a teenager — and yet I just learned some of its lyrics last week.

That was what happened when I first heard a wildly illuminating new mix of the album being released today under the name “Tim: The Let It Bleed Edition.” If you already know “Tim” as well as I did, this mix is a revelation: Phantom riffs emerge from the ether, once-muted drums sound stadium-sized, Paul Westerberg’s singing is often (if not always) understandable. It’s a fascinating opportunity to hear the importance of mixing and to compare different production styles.

And if you’ve never heard “Tim” before? I’m almost jealous, because now you get to bypass all the baggage and what-if’s and experience one of the greatest American rock records of the 1980s on its own terms.

When we fall in love with an album, we often become affectionate toward — maybe even defensive of — its imperfections. But “Tim” is a special case: The original album sounded thin, compressed and distant, as though the band were playing on the other end of a kid’s string-and-tin-can telephone. It was hardly the best way to present these songs. Produced by Tommy Erdelyi, a founding member and later studio wizard of the Ramones, “Tim” didn’t pack the sonic punch of the Replacements’ previous album, the cheekily titled 1984 masterpiece “Let It Be,” though Westerberg’s songwriting had grown stronger.

Formed in Minneapolis in 1979, the Replacements combined the anarchic fury of punk and hard rock with the sorts of timeless pop melodies written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney — or by the unsung musical hero to whom they’d later dedicate one of their best songs, Alex Chilton of Big Star. By 1985, the Replacements were critical darlings with a cult following and three increasingly ambitious albums under their belt, but mainstream success still eluded them. There was a feeling that “Tim,” their major-label debut for Seymour Stein’s Sire Records, might change that.

It didn’t. The Replacements had a perpetual self-destructive streak that was equal parts frustrating and endearing, and they found the promotional process too corny to take seriously. The album’s title, for one thing, is a head-scratcher.* The music video for the “Tim” single “Bastards of Young” was just a long, slow zoom shot of a speaker. Their notorious “Saturday Night Live” performance in early 1986 got them banned from the show.

“Tim” was hardly the commercial breakthrough that the label had hoped for — it peaked at No. 183 on the Billboard album chart. The lead guitarist Bob Stinson already had one foot out of the band during the recording sessions, and it would be his last Replacements album. The LP has served as an enduring snapshot of the original lineup’s final days, and over time it has found its own intergenerational legion of devotees.

Now, 38 years after its initial release, the record has gotten the warm, muscular mix it always deserved at the hands of Erdelyi’s frequent collaborator Ed Stasium, a veteran producer and engineer. If the original mix of “Tim” sounded like eavesdropping on the band performing on the other side of a wall, Stasium’s new mix makes it feel like you’re in the middle of the room, dodging Westerberg’s spittle and catching whiffs of the Replacements’ ever-present aura of cigarettes and booze.

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m quite excited about this new mix. With this playlist, I’ve cobbled together a kind of alternate version of “Tim” that leans heavily on the Stasium mix but also includes a couple of bonus tracks, demos and a few instances where I think the original Erdelyi mix works best.

I’d encourage you to listen to Stasium’s version of “Tim” in its entirety; even if I don’t agree with every single choice he made, the overall spirit of the project makes me grateful that it now exists.

But if you want to dig a little deeper into the album’s lore, or just learn a bit about production choices and mixing, turn your dial to the left and crank up this playlist.

Listen along on Spotify while you read.

Here is the ultimate Westerbergian mantra of arrested development: “Hold my life until I’m ready to use it.” (It was also my unofficial theme song during a monthslong stretch of post-collegiate unemployment.) Since this is a song about indecision and stasis, Westerberg’s delivery is appropriately mumbled, but Stasium’s new mix makes the guitars ring out loud and clear. (Listen on YouTube)

The original mix of “Tim” leaned heavily on reverb, and this new version of the rockabilly show tune “I’ll Buy” shows what a disservice that did to Chris Mars’s sharp, energetic drumming. The percussion really pops here, as does Westerberg’s enunciation: I truly did not realize he was saying “it’s fine, fine, fine, fine, fine” in the first part of the chorus, despite having heard this song approximately one million times. (Listen on YouTube)

Possibly a contrarian opinion, but I like the compressed, faraway sound of the original best. That gauzy remove makes the song feel that much more like a romantic reverie. (Listen on YouTube)

Bob Stinson was growing estranged from the band by the time “Tim” was recorded, and he plays on just five of the album’s 11 tracks. His presence on this version of the hard-hitting, storm-chasing “Dose of Thunder” finally looms as large as it should have all along. Plus, who knew that Westerberg was making a “Wizard of Oz” reference on the bridge? Not I. (Listen on YouTube)

The album’s catchiest, most tongue-in-cheek tune — an affectionately irreverent ode to Westerberg’s flight attendant sister — is a bit of a lark, so I like this alternate version, first heard on the 2008 expanded edition of “Tim,” because it doesn’t take itself seriously. That Westerberg flubs one of the lyrics is totally in line with the song’s spirit. (Listen on YouTube)

On the new mix, the atmosphere of this introspective, mid-tempo number — covered many years later by the alt-pop star Lorde — provides plenty of space for Westerberg’s aching vocal and some floating guitar flourishes not heard on the original. (Listen on YouTube)

Stasium’s mix makes this anthem of young-adult disillusionment sound like the huge hit it always deserved to be. But I believe “Bastards of Young” to already be a perfect, A+, 10-out-of-10 rock ’n’ roll song, with no possible room for improvement, even when it sounds like it’s coming out of the blown-out speaker from the audaciously low-concept music video. (Listen on YouTube)

As with “Dose of Thunder,” some of the most revelatory moments of Stasium’s work come on the album’s heaviest songs. “Lay It Down Clown” has never sounded so wonderfully shambolic. (Listen on YouTube)

Shortly before the proper “Tim” sessions began, the band got a chance to work through new material and record some demos produced by its hero, Alex Chilton. None of the Chilton sessions made the final album, but this expanded edition premieres some of those recordings. I like the loose, unpolished sound he captured on this early cut of the band’s classic ode to the indie underground. (Listen on YouTube)

Stasium really punches up Bob Stinson’s presence on this song, a Westerbergian character study of marital dissatisfaction that draws equally from Tennessee Williams and the Who. (Listen on YouTube)

The gut-wrenching closing track on “Tim” marks a crucial step in the band’s inevitable shift from playing party songs to playing my-drinking-is-taking-a-toll songs. Again, there’s something about the hazy glow of the original that works, as if it’s taking place in those haunting moments just before sunrise. (Listen on YouTube)

This recording of the fan-favorite rarity provides a clear example of how the raw, atmospheric sound Chilton captured in his sessions differed from the tinnier and echoing feel of the finished album. (Listen on YouTube)

Destined to become one of the band’s best-known songs when a more polished arrangement with string and horn parts appeared on the 1987 album “Pleased to Meet Me,” Westerberg was actually tweaking “Can’t Hardly Wait” during the “Tim” era. I prefer these early versions to the finished track, which allow us to imagine what would have happened if yet another one of the Replacements’ greatest songs had appeared on “Tim.” (Listen on YouTube)

Take it it’s yours take it it’s yours take it it’s yours,


* Who is the mysterious Tim? Just a name embroidered on a thrift-store jacket that Bob liked to wear. As his brother and the band’s bassist, Tommy, put it in the new edition’s liner notes, with classic Replacements logic, “Like most of the titles of the records, it started off as an inside joke. Calling a record ‘Tim’ — after a bunch of drinks it was funny. The next day it wasn’t so funny. But if you had more drinks, it became funny again.”

Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.

“The Chaos and Clarity of the Replacements’ ‘Tim’” track list
Track 1: “Hold My Life (Ed Stasium Mix)”
Track 2: “I’ll Buy (Ed Stasium Mix)”
Track 3: “Kiss Me on the Bus (2023 Remaster)”
Track 4: “Dose of Thunder (Ed Stasium Mix)”
Track 5: “Waitress in the Sky (Alternate Version)”
Track 6: “Swingin Party (Ed Stasium Mix)”
Track 7: “Bastards of Young (2023 Remaster)”
Track 8: “Lay It Down Clown (Ed Stasium Mix)”
Track 9: “Left of the Dial (Alternate Version)”
Track 10: “Little Mascara (Ed Stasium Mix)”
Track 11: “Here Comes a Regular (2023 Remaster)”
Track 12: “Nowhere Is My Home (Alternate Version)”
Track 13: “Can’t Hardly Wait (Electric Demo)”

I highly recommend seeking out that fabled “Saturday Night Live” performance of “Bastards of Young.” Lorne Michaels was irked that Westerberg muttered a barely audible f-bomb, sure, but the performance is infinitely cooler and livelier than most of the overly rehearsed fare that gets played on that stage.

Also, from a 1986 live concert featured on the new edition of “Tim”: A delightfully chaotic cover of the Beatles“Nowhere Man.”

And, finally, if you’re looking for some music released more recently than the mid-1980s, might I recommend our weekly Playlist? This week, we’ve got fresh tracks from Zach Bryan and Bon Iver, Laurel Halo and Shakira.

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