A post-Replacements side project that still satisfies
At their peak, the Replacements were everything we loved about rock n’ roll: furious, unpolished, unpredictable, and a hell of a lot of fun. But leader Paul Westerberg knew the fun wouldn’t last forever, and tried to steer the band toward legitimacy. Yet, no one really wanted the class clowns to start wearing suits, and their last couple of studio albums suffered as a result. After the band fizzled out, Westerberg continued to soften his approach for his subsequent solo albums.
Then, in 1993, an unlikely thing happened – ‘Mats bassist Tommy Stinson strapped on a guitar, stepped to the mic, and put a band together called Bash & Pop that recalled some of the greatest moments of his classic, former band. Their debut album, Friday Night is Killing Me, has just been reissued by Omnivore Recordings with an entire disc of rarities.
Bash & Pop were loud as hell, with an irreverence that was infectious.
Stinson may not have been the vocalist Westerberg was, but here was a former band member sounding like he was actually having fun! And, as a longtime fan who saw the Replacements’ last tour, it was a welcome change in attitude for sure.
The album opens with “Never Aim to Please” – with Stinson doing a pretty good Tattoo You-era Stones homage, and drummer Steve Foley aping Charlie Watts’ tight-as-hell percussion. Plus, we get bassist-turned-frontman’s take on the breakup of his band: “tried to keep the ball rolling / it rolled over me.”
Guitarist Steve Brantseg elevates these tracks with his booze n’ blues playing, especially on display with the midtempo “Loose Ends,” which actually got a decent amount of radio play. “Tickled to Tears” is the sort of greasy rocker that the Faces perfected.
“Fast and Hard” is Stinson’s response to hardcore Replacements’ devotees that saw the band move toward the middle of the road, while “Friday Night is Killing Me” features one of his best vocals on the record, the kind of rocker his former band used to toss off at will. “Tiny Pieces” has an interesting feel, the acoustic guitars and muted percussion sound like it was recorded at a different session, yet it has a great chorus too.
There are a couple of slower numbers, “Nothing” and “First Steps,” which help add some diversity, but pale in comparison to the rockers.
The bonus disc features demos and alternate versions of most of the tracks on the original album. The home demo of “Never Aim to Please” is slower, but surprisingly similar to the released version, it’s just missing the kick-ass drums. There’s an earthy charm to the “First Steps” demo that really makes it superior to the released take. The biggest surprise is the fantastic “Harboring a Fugitive,” which appeared as a promo-only, vinyl release – this is one of the band’s most melodic tunes, and really should’ve received more recognition. “Making Me Sick,” one of the last things the band recorded, originally appeared on the Clerks Soundtrack.
In an odd twist of fate, Bash & Pop returned earlier this year with a new album called Anything Could Happen, albeit with Stinson as the only original member, making this reissue even more timely.
Friday Night is Killing Me is one of those albums that sort of got missed the first time around (it was released in the Age of Grunge, after all). In hindsight, the album is a pretty solid listen and sounds great at high volume. It’s also a hell of a lot more fun than the last few Replacements records. A solid, no-frills rock record that deserves another listen. —Tony Peters