The plethora of criteria that goes into reviewing an album is arguably different when said album is a compilation. There is rarely stranger a beast in this realm than the tribute album. The perplexing quality is that while the songwriting of the material is often quite strong, the execution and presentation can completely ruin the album. 1-2-3-4 Go! Records' tribute to the Replacements however, escapes this pitfall as it assembled with care from every angle.
The album artwork by Cristy Road is both beautifully eye-catching and fitting toward the original spirit that the the Replacements embodied. It features two punks (one passed out) amidst stacks of records, an old pizza box, and a guitar in a room with cracked walls. This obviously displays the band's hard-living lifestyle they portrayed on stage and in their songs but subtly speaks to one of the more endearing qualities of the band. In songs such as "Johnny's Gonna Die," "Somethin' to Du," "Alex Chilton" and his general song craft, Paul Westerberg proved to be above all else a lover of rock music. Whether it was intentional or not the stacks of record are telling of that.
The bands chosen to pay tribute are pretty much all from a punk rock background yet are an interesting mix; from veteran players (the Queers, Drag the River), rising stars (Against Me!), criminally overlooked bands (Tiltwheel, This Is My Fist) and rare collaborations (Thomas Barnett and Rob Huddleston). The songs chosen span the band's entire career and are presented in (mostly) chronological order of release. This gives the album somewhat of a cohesive feel because luckily by and large the band went through rather natural progressions from album to album.
The Ergs open the album with their cover of "I'm in Trouble," setting the album off with some balls-to-the-walls action. The Replacements had an innocence to their rambling rock'n'roll that stayed with them in their career but was most evident in their earlier recordings. Mikey Ergs' voice sounds just youthful enough to maintain that same feeling over the rough guitars, and actually manages to put a tad more grit into the song than most of the Ergs' material I've heard. This establishes a healthy give-and-take between the performers and the source material for a winning combination. The Ergs aren't the only band whose singer tries to uphold some of Westerberg's personality in their cover though. Hi Ho Six Shooter's singer has/adds a country inflection to his voice on their electrified version of "If Only You Were Lonely" to maintain some of the original swagger. There is also an interesting inclusion of organ, which is a great idea for the song in theory but the way it is integrated makes the chorus come up very abruptly ruining that casual mosey in the process.
While some bands falter when they try to add in too many elements other bands falter when they remove an integral part of what makes the original recording so special without really putting anything of themselves. Whiskey Sunday suffers from this when they don't have the horns and string arrangements in "Can't Hardly Wait." They understandably make the song harder as their vocalist has a rather harsh voice, but the horns are part of what makes the original so charming. I would have liked to see Against Me! tackle this (although their contribution was respectable), horns included because some of their most successful compositions include horns, even the ones set in a more abrasive setting (see: "Miami").
Some of the most successful covers in the compilation tend to be when the bands don't try too many tricks and use the strengths they have as their own band. Tiltwheel's elegant clash of melody and intensity on "Skyway" and the Queers' tightness and confidence on "Unsatisfied" are proof of this. Perhaps the band whose tribute sounds the most natural overall is the Draft's "Little Mascara." Their own rich blend of rock'n'roll and punk attitude slides them perfectly into place working with the ‚??mats material.
Sure, there are plenty of songs I personally think should have been included here ("Shiftless When Idle," "The Ledge," "All Shook Down") but for 23 songs on a single disc this is pretty comprehensive. Per album the compilation gives most attention to Tim with six songs, and I would have liked more Pleased to Meet Me, but you can't please everyone. Regardless, these are some great-to-amazing songs covered by some great-to-amazing bands. All of the covers are a fitting tribute, some better than others but none of them bad, which is a lot more than most tribute records can boast. Like the Replacements themselves there should be something here for everyone to enjoy, and if you've never heard the Replacements hopefully this might be the intro you need. 1-2-3-4 Go! must be commended on the obvious painstaking labour put into making sure they actually paid respect with a real tribute to one of the great American bands.