The Replacements Tim: Let It Bleed Edition

Having just finished this review of The Replacements’ Tim: Let It Bleed Edition, I thought I’d glance at a couple of online forums to see what the collective verdict was on the sound quality of the set’s main attraction: a remix of the album by Ramones engineer Ed Stasium. At Steve Hoffman’s forums, I saw this in one of the first posts: “It sounded like I expected Tim to sound when it came out in the fall of 1985. I’ve also listened to the newly remastered original album that comes with the set, and while it sounds good and I’m glad to have it, it pales compared to the 2023 Stasium mix.” Ticking down a post or two, exuberance gushed forth: “Well, IMO the [Stasium] version of Tim may be the greatest rock record of all time.”

Forums are fight clubs for the bored or pugnacious, and squabbling is often the point. Audiophile scrums are among the nastiest. Name calling often ensues; gene pools can be disparaged, personal hygiene called into question. But across the spectrum of those who care how recorded music sounds—from the slightly interested to those who live for the fight—nearly everyone seems to agree that Stasium’s remix, featured here on both CD and LP, is a genuine revelation in terms of tempos, dynamics, and adding new life to the music. It is exceedingly rare for a masterpiece album, adored by most critics on its initial release, to be sonically recast so radically.

This deluxe Tim reissue includes four CDs, an LP, and a booklet with extensive liner notes. CD 1 has the Stasium remix of Tim. A second includes the original mix by Tommy Erdelyi (aka Tommy Ramone), newly remastered by Stasium; A/B comparisons have never been easier. There’s a CD of demos and alternate versions. The fourth CD contains a live show from 1986.

A guitar player–turned–audio engineer, Stasium has a varied resumé. He was the engineer behind Gladys Knight and The Pips’ hit single “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and he recorded the Ramones’ Leave Home, Talking Heads: 77, Living Colour’s Vivid, and Motörhead’s 1916.

Antiheroes always terrified of success, The Replacements were as much Faces and Big Star as they were New York Dolls and Sex Pistols. Recently, because of a series of classy reissues, they’ve become a cause célèbre among those who mourn the current sorry state of guitar-band rock. Those early Replacements albums, though, were sonic calamities. Initially the ‘Mats (for “placemats” as they were affectionately known by their fans), were fans of the lo-fi sound favored by the punk-rock faithful; the intricacies of recording were beyond them and also their hometown label, Minneapolis-based Twin/Tone Records. Consequently, the mixes were often muddy and inconsistent.

When the band moved to Seymour Stein’s Sire Records in 1985, their recordings became audibly better. But to those in love with the Replacements’ reckless abandon, the new professionalism detracted from the mêlée and self-sabotage that made them so admirably pure. They weren’t doing it to be rock stars, the legend went: They genuinely didn’t care. The move to Sire opened a split among ‘Mats fans: those who prefer the early punk-rock cacophony versus those who thought the more precise Sire sound was a vast improvement.

At least on the online forums expressing opinions about the Stasium Tim mix, that split has almost entirely disappeared.

The new mix is infinitely sharper. Tommy Stinson’s bass roars, and Chris Mars’s drums are more resonant. The entire mix is somehow louder while also being spread across a much wider soundstage. Stripping away much of the reverb has sharpened the attack of Bob Stinson’s guitar. Paul Westerberg’s vocals are clearer and not as dry as in the original. Previously muffled details are unearthed, such as the guitar part between the first and second verses of “Bastards of Young.” The clarity brought to the cello and piano parts in “Here Comes a Regular” is a welcome addition. Perhaps the most surprising improvement is how the layered mix has changed the perception of “Dose of Thunder” from a near throwaway—a tune to skip past—to another of this album’s classic moments. One misstep: Bob Stinson’s guitar parts at the end of “Little Mascara” don’t add much.

To my great surprise, the best part of this reissue is the disc of demos and alternate takes, Sons of No One: Rare and Unreleased. Usually, demos are boring, but here they show four versions of Westerberg trying hard yet failing to work out “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which eventually appeared on 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me. For those who cherish memories of the live mayhem, or who never saw the band, there’s the 28-track show recorded in 1986 at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro. The sound is thin and often flat, but the manic energy crackles.

This new mix has inevitably given fresh life to the endless speculation about whether the ‘Mats could have ever been a “big” act as successful and well-known as Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers or Bruce Springsteen. Could they have ever gotten serious without losing the snottiness and indifference that was their superpower? Don’t Tell a Soul, their third Sire album and the last that can be considered a band record rather than a Westerberg solo project, smoothed many of their erratic charms, but it was considered a sellout by fans and so became their self-immolation.

Snarkily named after a rock avatar like their Twin/Tone album Let It Be, the Let It Bleed version of Tim proves how serious they became about making something lasting. Finding love, not sales, was their aim. Along the way, these loveable losers, often drunk and disorderly yet awash in sneaky chemistry and Westerberg’s formidable songwriting ambitions, accomplished marvelous feats. One of those feats can now be heard clearly for the first time.

Click Here: