It’s 1980. Paul Westerberg waits nervously in a Minneapolis record store for his turn to talk to local scenester Peter Jesperson, clutching a hand-scrawled cassette demo he hopes might lead his new band, the Replacements, to being considered for some opening gigs somewhere, sometime, somehow. Westerberg had wormed his way into the original Stinson brothers band Dogbreath, a unit that played instrumental Nugent and Yes covers, ostensibly to be their rhythm guitarist. He had other ideas. Taking over as vocalist and songwriter, he churned out ‘adaptations’ of his favorites from the Pistols and Johnny Thunders, with no more hopes in mind beyond leaving his day job as a janitor. Yet when Jesperson finally called back, it wasn’t with a gig but a record deal. The Replacements 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, is the latest in their catalog to get the deluxe Rhino vinyl/4-CD combo reissue. Focused and tight in a way they never were live, the young band speeds through delirious, catchy, self-deprecating pop-punk with the bare bones of an album that was knocked out in a day. In truth, it was the product of months of demos, studios, false starts and aborted sessions, all of them rounded up here. Contrary to their well-deserved clownish, drunk reputation, Westerberg, weary of being in acts that went nowhere, had put the young band through the paces in rehearsals. To the best of their abilities, they were ready. There’s little here that’s a harbinger of the heart-on-the-sleeve masterpieces like “Sixteen Blue” and “Answering Machine” Westerberg would be writing just three years later. At this point, they could have proved to be just another one-trick pony, and they knew it. Even if the songs weren’t as developed, their hunger was undeniable, sustained throughout the hours of music here. Jesperson had even spotted it in their cassette demo. With no other options, the Replacements were a band determined to push on. And their triumphs to follow might have never happened without this leaping bolt out of the gate.
Review by Jeff McCord