* * * * Great Balls of Fire , * * * Good Vibrations , * * Maybe Baby , * Running on Empty : 'PLEASED' IS A PLEASURE

* * * * "PLEASED TO MEET ME." The Replacements. Sire. The story so far in this saga of garage-band-makes-good: The scruffiest crew of rockin' wastrels this side of Johnny Thunders, the Replacements win a devoted following and get signed to Sire, which releases the Minneapolis quartet's fourth LP, "Tim," in 1985.

It catapults them to the brink of next-big-thingdom, but longtime fans find it a tad slick. We await their next move with bated breath, gasp at the sacking of guitarist Bob Stinson (the resident Keith Moon loony of the group) and unshrinkwrap their new LP with trepidation.

Have the Mats--as they're affectionately known by their followers--decided to play by the music-biz rules? Should we look for them on MTV? Is a duet with Julio Iglesias in the works? Nay, nay, never, no way! From the opening salvo of "I.O.U." it's clear that this is the rowdiest, raunchiest Mats' record yet, and that group leader Paul Westerberg is shaping up to be one of the finest tunesmiths of the '80s.

Produced by Jim Dickenson (who also produced Alex Chilton's unsung masterpiece, Big Star's "Third"), "Pleased" is a thrashing rave-up of Sex Pistols caliber. With Stinson gone and no replacement yet found, Westerberg was left to handle guitar duties, and he acquits himself admirably. This is a great, noisy record, shot through with spirit and humor, and the heart of the sound beats in Westerberg's guitar. That describes half of the record.

Tucked between the spit-in-the-eye screamers are four gorgeous pop lullabies that read as homages to Westerberg's mentor, Alex Chilton. In fact, one song is simply called "Alex Chilton." It's hard to think of a more deserving pop hero, and if "Pleased" achieved nothing more than to revive interest in the criminally underrated Chilton it would justify its existence.

But Westerberg does more than simply pay tribute to the melancholy genius of Memphis; he appropriates Chilton's bittersweet pop aesthetic and leaves his own thumbprint on it. Like Chilton, Westerberg writes with uncommon eloquence about the fragility of the human heart, and again like Chilton, he cloaks his wistful musings in cynical gallows humor.

Absent from Westerberg's songs, however, is the undercurrent of doom that courses through much of Chilton's work. A shining ray of hope illuminates most of the songs here. Moreover, "Can't Hardly Wait" is the most dizzyingly romantic tune Westerberg has written yet. It's also a great closing track for the record, proving as it does that the Replacements have learned that you don't need a chip on your shoulder in order to rock like a maniac.

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