The Upshot: Erstwhile ‘mats bassist rapidly emerged from his bandleader’s shadow to display a remarkable sonic acuity, as this expanded reissue clearly reveals.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
When the Replacements broke up in 1991, all eyes turned toward bandleader Paul Westerberg for the next move. Eager to move on from the ‘Mats’ reputation, Westerberg spent the first part of his solo career trying earnestly to become alt.rock’s James Taylor, before eventually settling into an eccentric and erratic series of one-man band LPs.
Fans looking for more of the ‘Mats’ rollicking bar band asskicking had their heads turned in the wrong direction. Had they shifted their gaze, they might have noticed Bash & Pop. On 1993’s Friday Night is Killing Me, its first (and, for over two decades, only) album, the band formed by bassist Tommy Stinson proved the ‘Mats’ co-founder to be not only the true soul of the beloved band, but the heir to its ramshackle rock & roll. Boasting more of a Faces/Stones vibe than anything his ex-bandleader ever recorded as a solo artist, Stinson, his bandmates, and the myriad sessioneers who helped create the record tap directly into the tight-but-loose vein of aspiring bar bands everywhere.
Singing in a classic soulful rasp, Stinson uses the prototypical model of two guitars, bass and drums to field a set of songs steeped in both brash attitude and winsome uncertainty. “Never Aim to Please,” “Hang Ups” and “Fast & Hard” (with an uncredited Westerberg on backing vocals) fulfill the first part of the band’s name nicely, insisting on the world rocking out with a joyful grin overtaking the sneer. The world-weariness of a life spent on the road starts to intrude in “Loose Ends” and “Tickled to Tears,” before finding full flower in the title track. Stinson strips back to near nudity on the ballads, imbuing “Nothing” and “First Steps” with wistful nervousness, but still displaying a determination to move past it. With it all coming together under the watchful eye of producer Don Smith, Friday Night is Killing Me calls attention to itself not with bombast or chest-puffery, but with smart songcraft and a time-tested take on old-fashioned rock & roll.
This new edition adds a second disc with some of Stinson’s home demos, alternate takes on most of the album’s tunes, and three non-album cuts. The power popping “Harboring a Fugitive” and hard rocking “Situation” were worked up in rehearsal but didn’t make the LP, while the punky “Making Me Sick,” featuring a different lineup of Bash & Poppers, ended up on the Clerks soundtrack. Nice treats for completists ultimately make an unheralded but great record even better.
DOWNLOAD: “Friday Night (is Killing Me),” “First Steps,” “Never Aim to Please”