Paul Westerberg - Suicaine Gratifaction LP

(Capitol Records, 1999)

 

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"This is the album that began the latter-day image of Westerberg as the basement-tapes songwriter, holed up in his home writing songs on a piano. The title, and the album itself, aren’t the cheeriest things in the world. “You know, ‘Here Comes a Regular’ and all that stuff were from the same place that [this album] came. I’ve just never been there this long and gotten this much out of it…I felt kind of like I was lost in this dark room, and rather than looking for a way out, I kept going deeper and deeper in.”

The opening two songs of Suicaine Gratifaction are soft and nearly solo performances, the first with guitar, the second with piano. “It’s a Wonderful Lie” seems to celebrate the facade of fame in all its fraudulent glory, the glory of bullshitting your way through things. “Self-Defense,” however is another animal entirely. “I was proud, I guess, of the lyrics,” said Westerberg, and this album became the one and only Westerberg album (or Replacements album, for that matter) to be released with a lyrics sheet. “And only when you’re chased / do you ever run fast. / And it’s wrong to commit a suicide. / It’s only in self-defense,” goes the closing line of “Self-Defense.” The piano recalls moments from Westerberg’s past – the fractured keys of “The Last” from All Shook Down in particular – and it underscores the song’s melancholy perfectly. It’s these softer moments that become this album’s biggest strengths. The closing “Bookmark” is one of Westerberg’s most moving songs, its extended similes ringing emotions across the piano, pedal steel and deep string sounds of the track.

Suicaine Gratifaction is a complex record. If you know the back story, it’s hard not to pull for this record to be better than it ultimately was, to hope that it was a masterpiece that Capitol slept on and that ultimately will find an audience appreciative of its intricacies. In reality, it’s another Westerberg record – similar to the previous two in that they are a mix of brilliant writing and a few slipshod numbers; not all that different from most of the Replacements’ catalogue either. The nuanced production does let us see the album’s songs, in retrospect, as the precursor to Westerberg’s lower-fi, basement-recorded, and far stronger work on the 2002 Stereo/Mono album. But in 2000, when Westerberg and Capitol parted ways, it was the last we heard from Paul for awhile. In fact, it seemed for a moment like this might be the last we’d hear from him – the great poet of Midwestern ennui and heartbreak, of hopes and self-deprecation finally silenced, the last chord of the piano seeming to hang there forever. Would it ever sound again?" - J. Neas for Aquarium Drunkard