It would be baffling to approach a "Best of
" album by dissecting individual songs, since the reason they've made the album is each song has been found delectable under previous close inspection. The best way to begin this review is to give reasons why this "Best of
" is better than the previous effort, All For Nothing, Nothing for All. This should provide solid grounds to get this one over the other one, or along with the other one. The evidence that Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? is superior is three-fold:
REASON #1: The Twin-Tone Years Exist. Imagine having a child and choosing to ignore the first 18 years of her life. I just watched a Twilight Zone with this issue, yet that was because the daughter was a robot, and had always been a young lady. The Replacements are about as human as their faults, so ignoring the punk thrash years is forsaking the seeds of brilliance. Rhino, to their credit, realized how essential it was to include Sorry Ma..., Stink, Hootenanny, and Let It Be. Don't You Know moves in chronological order, doing about as fine a job as possible assembling 18 so-called "best" songs from a band that did not create commercial hits. Even more confusing is the fact that every song they wrote would be on some fan's greatest list. (I'll provide my 18 choices, given the challenge the Rhino folks faced below.)
REASON #2: The Pairing of Skyway and Can't Hardly Wait. Those are the best two songs ever placed back to back on an album (Pleased To Meet Me). Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? retains that marriage. I had a very difficult time listening to All For Nothing because the two were separate, which messed with the harmony of my universe. I would imagine the same issue would exist for any other fan. If you can listen to "Skyway" without "Can't Hardly Wait", or vice versa, it's time to turn in your 'Mats Kid Club Card.
REASON #3: Cause for a Celebration. If any of us (fans) had known that putting together a solid "Best of " album would get the band back together (even temporarily), we would have had at least a couple more tracks with Bob Stinson. After hoping for years that my music parental would reunite, especially when The Pixies surprised me, I imagined little would bring the band back together. Even though, at this point, it seems short-lived, hearing a couple new tracks from lifelong heroes is well worth its weight in gold.
As for those new tracks, "Message To The Boys" has the pop appeal that made Paul Westerberg popular on the Singles Soundtrack. Westerberg has gone lo-fi, and mostly self-sufficient, in his recent recordings, but this shows what kind of energy he can still command with a group and a studio. Having a simple catch, with a little deeper message if you care to find it, "Message To The Boys" could easily be a hit, but history dictates that it won't be, especially since Westerberg seems most resistant to celebrity, skipping the radio premiere of the song on The Jim Rome Show. "Pool & Dive", the second of the recordings, is a two-minute gem that, historically speaking, would be best matched with "I Don't Know" on Pleased To Meet Me. It apparently is about a pool with water, although "Pool & Dive" sounds more like a bar where you would meet Stinson, Mars, and Westerberg.
Don't You Know Who I Think I Was? is a "Best of " that could, at least, arguably represent The Best of The Replacements, which is about the best anyone can do with a band loved and appreciated for so many different reasons. The new recordings are just icing on the cake. If Rhino could only figure out how to get a couple live shows out of The Replacements, we would all be forever indebted. How about a Best of The Replacements Live DVD with new performances? If I were Tommy, I'd rather watch Paul down a fifth backstage than Axl eat a roast dinner.
Putting myself in Rhino's quandary, here are the 18 I would have assembled in chronological order:
2. Stuck In The Middle
3. Go (The first sniff of later Replacements)
4. Run It (Like many of the Sorry Ma songs, but better)
5. Color Me Impressed (My friend liked The Cure, I liked this song)
6. I Will Dare (The only reason I liked Feeling Minnesota at all)
7. Unsatisfied (Sat for 8 hours straight with my Discman repeating this track and was completely sober)
8. Hold My Life
9. Kiss Me On The Bus
10. Bastards Of Young
11. Left Of The Dial (I tried to leave this off the list, but it haunted me the next 2 days until I relented)
12. Here Comes A Regular (With 5 on the list, I realized Tim was the first Best of album)
14. Can't Hardly Wait
15. Talent Show
16. We'll Inherit The Earth (A later version of "Bastards of Young")
17. Sadly Beautiful (Every time I write, I'm tempted to steal this title at some point)
18. When It Began ("Nothing, that's something I understand." Why has this song been shafted twice in the "Best Of" category for "Merry Go Round"?)
Honorable Mention (crossed off getting down to 18) : Otto, I'm in Trouble, Willpower, Waitress in the Sky, Swingin Party, They're Blind, The Last
***It would be interesting to see the 18 from other fans. It might even be a time to start coming up with a Best of Paul Westerberg (solo career) list, since he has done enough work for that consideration also.***
The Replacements - Don't You Know Who I Think I Was