End of the Irony

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Paul Westerberg may have saved your life — or maybe just your sanity — before. As the leader of America's last great rock band, the Replacements, Westerberg wrote and sang about a world of beautiful losers somehow left behind and, in the process, established himself as one of the best songwriters of his generation. He's been on his own since the breakup of the Replacements in 1991, and while both 1993's 14 Songs and 1996's Eventually were good records, this one is a stunner.

Suicaine Gratification finds Westerberg with a new producer, Don WASterberg, a new label, Capitol, and a slightly tweaked outlook on life. He still thinks he's a loser, but this time out there's no sympathy, just affection for Westerberg as both a songwriter and as a person. He still knows how to turn a phrase upside down, but on songs like "It's a Wonderful Lie" and "Best Thing that Never Happened," there are no smart-ass punch lines, only an irony and sadness that's bittersweet. The record has rockers — great ones like "Lookin' Out Forever" and the sunny "Whatever Makes You Happy" — but the real gems are the ballads. Westerberg's duet with Shawn Colvin, "Born for Me," is flat-out gorgeous, and the record's closer, "Bookmark," is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard.

Without a tour or video to back it up, there's every chance that Suicaine Gratification may slip beneath the surf this year. That would be a shame, because this is a great record and I do believe that Westerberg is one of the best we've got. Not one to miss.

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