Various Artists

Left of the Dial: A Pop Tribute to the Replacements

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With most tribute LPs, if you love the originals, you get turned off by an hour of third-rate covers and needless replication. Left of the Dial is among the intermittent opposites; it's a good time instead of a major downer. Probably its success is down to its conception. Though the Replacements were America's premier '80s garage band, a supremely developed pop side to Paul Westerberg's inspired writing always bubbled clearly up from the scrawk, pummel, and roll. (Westerberg emphasized this side in the last stages of the band's eight-album career, but by then his knack was slacking a bit.) So, instead of assembling a bunch of new punk-garage misfits to xerox the gasket-blowing, sloppy-thick originals, this stack of 24 underground bands paying homage still rocks, but they approach the originals as more powerful pop to be played tightly; a few, like the Marlowes (who do a fine job with "Alex Chilton"), Lolas, and Bender still go for the controlled, fast, chaotic, slop-bucket charm. With the exception of only one or two duds (the Andersons ruin "Nobody"), everyone has the right idea, right from the Happy Regrets opener of "Kiss Me on the Bus." The recording quality is surprisingly high -- this is not a bunch of bad-sounding, thrown-together four-tracks -- and several, like the Dipsomaniacs' "Can't Hardly Wait," should bring an instant smile to anyone who loved the group in the old days. It'd be nice to see a few more here take on Sorry Ma and Stink (hurrah for Bender's "Don't Ask Why"), but otherwise high marks! I'd give plenty to be in the front row at Danceteria, Folk City, Gildersleeves, CBGB, or Irving Plaza again. The songs always win. (P.O. Box 1733, Burlington, NJ 08016; facedown@ix.netcom.com)

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