Moving to a major label was inevitable for the Replacements: they garnered too much acclaim and attention after Let It Be to stay on Twin/Tone, especially as the label faced the same distribution problems that plagued many indies in the mid-'80s -- plus, the 'Mats' crosstown rivals, Hüsker Dü, made the leap to the big leagues, paving the way for their own hop over to Sire. The Replacements may have left Twin/Tone behind but they weren't quite ready to leave Minneapolis in the dust, choosing to record in their hometown with Tommy Erdelyi -- aka Tommy Ramone -- who gives the 'Mats a big, roomy sound without quite giving them gloss; compared to Let It Be, Tim is polished, but compared to many American underground rock records of the mid-'80s (including those by the Ramones), it's loose and kinetic. The production -- guitars that gained muscle, drums and vocals that gained reverb -- is the biggest surface difference, but there aren't just changes in how the Replacements sound; what they're playing is different too, as Paul Westerberg begins to turn into a self-aware songwriter. A large part of the charm of Let It Be was how it split almost evenly between ragged vulgarity and open-hearted rockers, with Westerberg's best songs betraying a startling, beguiling lack of affect. That's not quite the case with Tim, as Westerberg consciously writes alienation anthems: the rallying cry of "Bastards of Young" and the college radio love letter "Left of the Dial," songs written with a larger audience in mind -- not a popular audience, but a collection of misfits across the nation, who huddled around Westerberg's raw, twitchy loneliness on "Swingin Party" and "Here Comes a Regular," or the urgent and directionless "Hold My Life."
These songs are Westerberg at his confessional peak, but instead of undercutting this ragged emotion or hiding it away, as he did on the Twin/Tone albums, he pairs it with the exuberance of "Kiss Me on the Bus" -- an adolescent cousin to "I Will Dare" -- and channels his smart-ass comments into the terrifically cynical rockabilly shuffle "Waitress in the Sky." All this eats up so much oxygen that there's not much air left for any of the recklessness of the Twin/Tone LPs: there's no stumbling, no throwaway jokes, with even the twin rave-ups of "Dose of Thunder" and "Lay It Down Clown" straightened out, no matter how much Bob Stinson might try to pull them apart, which is perhaps the greatest indication that the Replacements were no longer the band they were just a couple years ago. Some 'Mats fans never got over this change, but something was gained in this loss: the Replacements turned into a deeper band on Tim, one that spoke, sometimes mumbled, to the hearts of losers and outcasts who lived their lives on the fringe. If Let It Be captured the spirit of the Replacements, then Tim captured their soul.