Sorry Ma captures the Replacements in a nebulous form.
For fans of independent rock music, the Replacements define rock ‘n’ roll excess and chaos. They were the Dionysian rascals of the underground who, either by luck or songwriting skill, managed to sneak their way into the mainstream for a brief moment before ingloriously imploding. For many young bands, The Replacements exist as a mythic ideal, the perfect blend of debauchery and sincerity that has never and will never be equaled. Like all myths, though, this doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. To properly understand the Replacements, it’s important to acknowledge that they didn’t arrive fully formed with guitars slung over their shoulders and six-packs in their hands. On Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, the band demonstrates the wild sense of abandon that they eventually became famous for. However, it’s still very much a raw album, the sound of a band trying a few things on for size without a clear idea of what they want to do.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the development of the Replacements as a band is how they stumbled into punk rock seemingly by accident. To hear the band and various historians tell it, the Replacements never got into punk rock in the way that, say, Mission of Burma or Hüsker Dü did. They were classic rock kids through and through, fans of everything from Yes to Bad Company. However, SST-inspired hardcore was the rage in the close-knit scene that the ‘Mats ran in, so it wasn’t all that surprising that a band as young and impressionable as these kids would try their hand at loud, fast punk. But Sorry Ma isn’t tightly focused in the way that the seminal hardcore albums like Damaged are. By 1981, there were rules about how this sort of music was supposed to sound, and the impression that the Replacements give on Sorry Ma is that they really didn’t give a fuck about anyone’s rules.
Like any punk album of the era, Sorry Ma is loud, fast and brimming with energy. However, the album decidedly lacks the primal anger one would associate with the genre. Instead, the Replacements indulge in puppy love, dumb jokes and debauchery. Instead of screeds about the blandness of suburban existence, there are odes to service-industry crushes (“Customer”), tales of reckless nights behind the wheel (“Takin’ a Ride”) and tongue-in-cheek references to their local rivals (“Something to Dü”). The album also commits that greatest of sins against American hardcore by not being fast all the time; songs like “Kick Your Door Down” and “Johnny’s Gonna Die” are closer to classic rock than anything any punk band would dare to attempt. Any connection that the Replacements had to punk rock was largely circumstantial and based more on their amateur status as musicians than it was on any sort of overriding ethos that they followed, and Sorry Ma is very much a testament to that fact.
For all of its charms, though, Sorry Ma isn’t a masterpiece. Many bands arrive fully formed on their debut albums, but Sorry Ma captures the Replacements in a nebulous form. Elements of the songcraft that would come to define the band are present, but the album overall is arguably too sloppy and too much of a product of drunken kids having a lark. On later albums, songs like “Shut Up” would be a throwaway done as a moment of levity; on Sorry Ma, those songs are arguably the norm. Given what was to come later on from Westerberg, Mars and the Stinson boys, Sorry Ma feels even more like a warm-up than a main attraction in itself.
Given the time period in which it was released, it’s easy to see why Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash stands out to fans of this era of music. In a time when hardcore was so serious and regimented that it verged on self-parody, an album like this would seem pretty damn refreshing. And indeed, Sorry Ma is 36 minutes well-spent if you’re in the mood for cheap thrills. But Sorry Ma is only a part of the story, a cog in the then-incomplete myth of the Replacements. The booze-soaked rambunctiousness was there in surplus amounts. However, the songs that made them more than charming rascals would take a few more years to arrive.