All For Nothing, Nothing For All
Sometimes I listen to old Replacements records and wonder why I still listen to old Replacements records. Their Twin/Tone albums were loaded with KISS riffs and Beatles rips, novelty songs and poignant ballads, country goofs and punk poses--it's often hard to tell the trash from the treasures. Maybe the Replacements were great because they never tried to be, because their brand of rock and roll was so inadvertent. No one could try to write a song like "Unsatisfied." It just...happens.
Perhaps that's why the first disc of All For Nothing, Nothing For All, this two-CD anthology chronicling the band's 1985-'90 major-label years, is the one you could live without; it's an alleged best-of collection that chronicles the downfall of the Replacements in the post-Twin/Tone years, when Paul Westerberg began believing he alone was the band. It's actually hard to believe Reprise could come up with the 16 tracks that make up disc one, the All For Nothing portion of the compilation.
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Yet if the first disc serves to remind us where the Replacements went wrong, the second--a collection of B-sides and live tracks and outtakes--suggests where they went right. If Let it Be, their last record before going to Warners, was their final start-to-finish triumph, then Nothing For All is its accidental posthumous follow-up--a dustbin of purposeful gems and tossed-off wonders. They represent the fondest sort of farewell, a kiss-off with poisonous lipstick.
Disc two begins with a version of "Can't Hardly Wait" originally recorded for Tim, one shorn of the gaudy, emasculating Memphis Horns producer Jim Dickinson would later bring in. From there, Nothing deteriorates into a patchwork masterpiece filled with the sort of nonsense ("Beer for Breakfast," "Till We're Nude," "All He Wants To Do is Fish") and sappiness ("We Know the Night," "Portland," "Who Knows") that made Let it Be seem so fucked-up and flawless; it's hard now to believe there was a time when Westerberg so easily off-set heartbreak and despair with a drunken giggle. And the stripped-down "All Shook Down" near the end is poignant in a way its glossy counterpart never was. The less the Mats did to a song, the more it seemed to matter.
Nothing For All shows off the band for what it was--drunken idiots who stumbled into a record deal, who came this close to being something bigger till it all just fell apart. We adored them because they didn't give a shit and began hating them when they did. If nothing else, All For Nothing, Nothing For All reminds us of why we cared and when we stopped.