Bastard of middle age

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Eventually, released in 1996, was even more dull; Lord only knows how many times the words "James Taylor" appeared in reviews for the album, which can now be purchased for $4.91 in local used-CD bins, alongside his contributions to the soundtracks for Singles, Friends, and Melrose Place. Replacements fans couldn't help but shrug at the sad irony that while Chris Mars--booted from the band because he wanted the band to perform a few of his own songs--was recording in quick succession some brilliant, Ray Davies-fronting-the Replacements mini-gems, Westerberg was struggling without his old bandmates to prop him up.

"On those first two solo records, I needed to prove that I could do what the Replacements did--and maybe what I did was prove that I couldn't," he says. "But either one, it's history. This is what I do. Now, people will say, 'What would the Replacements have added to this?' Well, we wouldn't have gotten around to doing 90 percent of it. When you have the guys of the group--even if it's just a small group, three or four people--it frees you a little more to make statements like, 'We are this,' or, 'We're gonna do this.' When you're all alone, you realize you've got to lay yourself on the line, because that's all you've got. No one is really covering you from behind anymore."

Even less so now: Suicaine Gratifaction, his first album for Capitol Records, is the sound of a man so far out on a limb, even a fireman couldn't rescue him. It's a confusing, beautiful, unlistenable contradiction--the former Replacement recording with cellos and guitars turned down to one and guest vocalist Shawn Colvin brought in to sweeten up the sour moments. It's the sort of record that reveals the world about a man so many indie-rock fans have grown up with--and a record those very same fans will surely despise, wondering what the hell happened to their rock-and-roll hero.

The Replacements left in their wake both the best and worst that rock and roll has to offer: Nirvana and the Goo Goo Dolls, idols and enemies. They never became popular, never went platinum, never achieved the stardom they secretly pined for. And now, the Replacements will never get back together. Tommy Stinson recorded an EP and a never-to-be-released album with his own band, Perfect; now, he is paying the rent with Guns N' Roses, and the mind reels at the implications. Chris Mars has disappeared into the basement with his tape recorders and his paint brushes; when he will return is anyone's guess. Slim Dunlap, who replaced Bob as well as anyone could, is still making wonderful records no one is buying. And Bob, well, he's still dead.

As for Paul, he will not tour for this album. He doesn't see how it's possible to sit behind a piano and perform these new songs for an audience that will keep shouting out requests for "I Will Dare" or "Bastards of Young" or "I.O.U." or "Unsatisfied." He is content now to sit in his tinfoil-covered basement, black lipstick smeared on his face, and record in front of a new video camera with which he's become infatuated. Jesperson says he's heard rumors of Westerberg's showing up at South by Southwest in Austin next month, but don't count on it; Paul seems very much resolved to holing up with his piano and his son, shut out from the rest of the world with his Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane records to keep him company. He does like to say he is an unabashed misanthrope.

And perhaps it's just as well that he has chosen to shelve his rock-and-roll side. The Grandpaboy record has its moments--indeed, Westerberg insists the song "Lush and Green" is among the best things he's ever recorded, and maybe he's right--but it sounds too much like a thousand steps backward, right into a land mine. Suicaine Gratifaction is by no means a flawless record, but at least you can hear, feel, the ambition and thought and pain that went into its making. If nothing else, for all its faults, the new record feels like the most genuine record he has made since breaking up the band. And that's hardly an apology, simply a fact: Suicaine Gratifaction may be a mess, even a bore at times, but never does it feel like a fake.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky