Moroccan Role: From the Vault:: Paul Westerberg - <i>Suicaine Gratification</i>

Moroccan Role

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Friday, May 25, 2007

From the Vault:: Paul Westerberg - Suicaine Gratification

Suicaine Gratification was released in 1999 and is the third solo album from former Replacements frontman and songwriter Paul Westerberg. The Replacements were a highly influential 80s post-punk band hailing from the Twin Cities. They had highly devoted following and released a couple of near classic albums, including 1984's Let it Be and 85's Tim. While the band had a string of minor hits, they seemed content to remain relegated to, even relish, their perennial underdog status. The 'Mats always appeared on the cusp of a major commercial breakthrough, but the band had an endearing, yet severely handicapping self-destructive streak. A prime example of which occurred when the band showed up wasted to a Saturday Night Live taping and Paul dropped the "F" bomb on the air, incurring the wrath of SNL main man Lorne Michaels.

After The Replacements fizzled out, Paul's solo career officially began in 1992 with two songs ("Waiting for Somebody" & "Dyslexic Heart") on Cameron Crowe's Singles soundtrack. His first two solo albums, 93's 14 Songs and 96's Eventually, were released to critical acclaim, but sales were modest. Paul signed to Capital Records and released Suicaine Gratification in 1999, but as the label was undergoing massive reorganization, they did not extensively promote the album and it was a commercial disappointment.

Suicaine Gratification was initially fairly well received by critics, but the album is not generally remembered too fondly these days. For example, in a 2002 Pitchfork review of his Stereo solo album, they implored whether SG came as a result of an aneurysm. The truth is, this album was a bit of a departure for Westerberg and many of his piano and voice explorations here fell upon deaf ears. This record came shortly after the birth of a son and is probably the most personal of his career. In retrospect, the album feels like Paul was finally putting his past to bed and looking towards the future.

Excellent opener "It's a Wonderful Lie" is a quiet and minimal acoustic lament with a number excellent lyrical lines-- see, e.g., "So don't pin your hopes, don't pin your dreams/to misanthropes, guys like me". "Best Thing that Never Happened" is a mid-tempo garage pop-rock tune that vaguely references the 'Mats lost opportunities of widespread commercial success. "Final Hurrah" also seems self-aware and here Westerberg appears to equate this record to his "latest last chance" at an elusive breakthrough album. The album's lead single "Lookin' Out Forever" sounds the closest to his Replacements glory days and is a strong upbeat rocker with one of the album's most memorable vocal hooks. Despite its wanky lead guitar work towards the end, my favorite track here is "Fugitive Kind". The song starts as a somber, introspective piano ballad and transitions into a driving pop-rock anthem. When Paul shouts simple lines like, "Is this where I belong?", he strikes a nerve and taps into a rock and roll spirit that many other singer-songwriters are unable to reach their entire career. Later on, when Paul proclaims, "I'm a bad idea whose time has come" near the very top of his range, it is especially powerful knowing the man's history.

While the piano and vocal tunes ("Self Defense" & "Sunrise Always Listens") are a bit self-indulgent and do not play to Westerberg's songwriting strengths, the album is almost uniformly strong. Other album highlights include the romantic "Born for Me" and the sweet "Tears Rolling Up Our Sleeves". I have kept this CD in my vehicle since originally buying it 8 years ago and still pull it out fairly regularly. Admittedly, it is a bit of a grower and probably not even one of Westerberg's best solo albums, but it is just one of those albums that clicked with me. I suspect every music nerd has a handful of albums that they personally love without regard to their critical merit or appeal to others. For one reason or another, the record just works for you. For me, Suicaine Gratification is exactly that type of album.

MP3: Paul Westerberg - "Fugitive Kind"
MP3: Paul Westerberg - "Lookin' Out Forever"

Buy the album (cheap) here.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Chuck Evans said...

This is one of "those" albums for me too. I thought it was OK when it first came out, but it quickly faded from my "heavy rotation". A couple years later, I played it and then I really "got it". I listen to it quitefrequently now and it is my favorite Westerberg album.

9:28 AM  
Blogger James said...

Wow - interesting post. I'm a huge Replacements/Westerberg fan, and appreciate the thoughts about this overlooked album. Nice job.

btw - "Self-Defense", while a little overwrought, is a really good song. The idea of suicide as self-defense is inciteful in a way few besides Westerberg can be.

2:10 PM  
Blogger crummywatertowr said...

I feel the same way about "Fugitive Kind". It gives me chills every time.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous scumbunny said...

I was compiling a personal 'best of Westerberg' last year and pulled this album out. I can't really say I listened to it the whole way through the first time, and berate myself now for not doing so earlier, as I too now "get it", especially "Fugitive Kind" and "Final Hurrah", especially since I now have a 4 year old son. Dead on post and great insight!

1:45 AM  

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