The seduction of the Replacements is alive and well, and, as much as I might have intended to approach this record review with proper critical distance, well, that was blown out the window like a cigarette butt at 90 mph upon hearing the first notes of a previously unreleased, supercharged version of “Can’t Hardly Wait”. Devoid of the string- and horn-laden grandeur of the known version, “Wait” rocks and thrashes as if it’s a totally different song. The first track on Nothing For All, the B-sides/oddities/outtakes/covers disc of this two-CD collection (All For Nothing being a retrospective from the band’s Sire/Reprise years), “Wait” instantly prompts that obsessive, shit-eating-grin that plagued many a Mats Head for much of the ’80s.
The seduction continues throughout Nothing For All. Not enough to suggest this is on par with the band’s Let It Be/Tim/Pleased To Meet Me zenith — these are outtakes, after all — but there’s enough here to remind you that the Mats were like no other, simultaneously snot-nosed punks, anthemic rockers, semi-closeted metalheads, drunk fools, pop sweethearts and heart-on-the-sleeve folkies.
Included are the raunchy (“Beer For Breakfast”, “Wake Up”), snappy pop (“Birthday Gal”), lonesome folk-rock (“We Know the Night”, “Portland”), ridiculous (“Jungle Rock” and the Chris Mars-sung “All He Wants To Do Is Fish”) and, of course, the nearly incoherent (“Like a Rolling Pin”, a likkered-up, one-listen-is-plenty version of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”).
Mostly, and as one would hope and expect, there are enough moments where Paul Westerberg and his cigarette-parched voice do what they have always done best: explore the out-of sync place known as young adulthood. Like no other, Westerberg conveys confusion (“Wake up, wake up, wake up and wonder where you are”), boredom (“Predicting a delay on landing/Well I predict we’ll have a drink”) and misfit-dom (“I’ll be sad in heaven/If I don’t find a hole in the gate”) as if his life depended on it.
Some revelations remain. On their cover of the “Cruella De Ville”, from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, we are reminded that the band really couldn’t swing. Elsewhere, we get a glimpse of ideas that never really developed into full-fledged songs (the gospel-tinged “Date to Church”, the Southern-fried “Election Day”). Plus, and maybe most interestingly, we get to hear for the first time two tracks (“Wake Up” and “Portland”, the latter with a chorus later used in “Talent Show”) produced by Tony Berg, or “almost produced”, as the liner notes claim. Raw, crisp and steady, one can only wonder what happened to prompt the Mats to abandon these sessions in favor of what resulted in their most overproduced album, Don’t Tell a Soul.
The greatest-hits-like All For Nothing, though, seems pointless, especially for die-hard fans, but even for newbies. Featuring four tracks each from Tim, Pleased to Meet Me, Don’t Tell a Soul and All Shook Down, this is a way too judicious approach to showing off the band, unless the basic intent is to convey the band’s gradual decline into the land of the tamed and beaten down.
While it only includes one outright dud (the plodding, forced anthem “Anywhere Is Better Than Here”), there’s no way that later songs such as “Talent Show”, “Nobody” and “Someone Take the Wheel” should be featured above wondrous tunes like “Little Mascara”, “Swinging Party”, “Nightclub Jitters”, “Never Mind” and “Valentine”. Plus, since the business of music is such that we only get the Sire/Reprise goods, All For Nothing lacks the knockout punch of tracks from Let It Be such as “I Will Dare”, “Unsatisfied” and “Answering Machine” — not just the best from their earlier Twin/Tone years, but maybe the best in the band’s career. As a result, All For Nothing is like crashing a party at its peak and watching it wind down, the drunks slinking off to bed and the house soon reeking of stale beer.
If nothing else, All For Nothing could be that emergency tape that sits in your glove compartment, always there when you need it. But chances are, typical Mats Heads already have their own homemade compilation at their fingertips. As for the newbie, well, they’d be best served by tracking down such a fiend and going tape-to-tape. Or, if there are no totally hip buddies to be found, take those 20 or 25 bucks that you would spend on this collection and just get Tim and Pleased to Meet Me. This will best demonstrate the genius of the Replacements in their major-label days.