Home Read Classic Album Review: Paul Westerberg | Suicaine Gratifaction

Classic Album Review: Paul Westerberg | Suicaine Gratifaction

The beloved Replacements frontman's third solo release is a bleak, dark affair.

This came out in 1999 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


True story: In early 1998, I went to see former Replacements (but not-yet Guns N’ Roses) bassist Tommy Stinson play a solo acoustic set in a dive bar just off Hollywood Boulevard. After he finished playing, he went and sat at the bar. So I went up and chatted. Not surprisingly, the topic of his old bandmate Paul Westerberg came up.

“Hey Tommy,” I said after we’d had a couple of drinks, “Why don’t you go over to Paul’s house, kick his ass, strap a guitar on him and get him making some rock ’n’ roll again?” Tommy looked at me aghast — or possibly just tipsy. “I love Paul,” he protested. “I’d never kick his ass.”

OK, so he missed the point. (Then again, maybe I didn’t; when I told this story to Westerberg, he laughed and shot back: “Tommy wouldn’t? He COULDN’T!”) In any case, it’s a damn shame. Had Tommy tried to ruin his shine on Paul’s butt, it could have made Westerberg’s latest album a more upbeat affair.

Don’t get me wrong. Like Tommy, I love Paul. In fact, for my money, he’s the best songwriter of his generation. Period. From old Replacements rockers like Bastards Of Young to his later, starkly emotional ballads, nobody can tweak the funny bone, engage the brain and squeeze the heart all at once quite like Westerberg.

Photo by Heather Douglass

Trouble is, this time, the humour’s mostly missing from the equation. Suicaine Gratifaction, his third solo album, is his bleakest, darkest disc to date — dominated by spartan acoustic ballads of heartache and heartbreak. Some of Westerberg’s other trademarks remain thankfully intact — the clever wordplay (“I’m the best thing that never happened;” “You’re my latest last chance”), the gracefully simple melodies, the sloppy endings, the rootsy bar-band rockers. Even superstar knob-twiddler Don Was plays along, underproducing the tracks to let the beautiful, ramshackle craftsmanship of the songs shine through.

Still, for all the album’s undeniable merits, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Paul just isn’t having any fun here. “What am I doing? / I ain’t in my youth / I’m past my prime / Or is that just a pose?” he wonders in It’s A Wonderful Lie. And as the downward spiral of this dark album continues and circles in on itself, he seems less and less sure of the answer.

Truth is, he’s nowhere near ready for pasture. And Suicaine Gratifaction is admittedly one of the most elegantly gorgeous downers to come along in some time. But a small part of me still wishes somebody would convince Westerberg to crank up the Marshall again and let fly with one more good Dose Of Thunder.

Ball’s in your court, Tommy.