Paul Westerberg hasn’t sworn off working with a band entirely, but as he recorded the 12 songs for Suicaine Gratifaction it became clear to the singer/songwriter that this latest batch were meant to be played solo.
“There’s no question in my mind that I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else around making this kind of music,” Westerberg said, of the songs from his Feb. 23 release. “This was the most solo thing I’ve ever done. I recorded and played most of everything and engineered and mixed a lot of it.”
Teaming with ubiquitous producer Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop), the 39-year-old former leader of power-pop pioneers the Replacements continued in the pensive direction of his 1996 LP Eventually, which featured such introspective songs as “Love Untold” (RealAudio excerpt) and “These Are the Days” (RealAudio excerpt).
Blending such moody piano ballads as “Self-Defense” and “Sunrise Always Listens” with out-and-out rock songs, including “Lookin’ Out Forever” and “Final Hurrah,” Suicaine Gratifaction finds Westerberg trotting out the songwriting tricks he’s learned over the years.
“I just find the songs people hold dearest are the ones I don’t edit. I’m anticipating, on this one, there’s going to be quite a few,” Westerberg said. “There were a lot of these that were just right from the heart: ‘It’s a Wonderful Lie’ and ‘Bookmark,’ which sounds like it was labored over [but] was nothing of the kind.”
Despite playing most of the instruments himself, Westerberg did get help from Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin, who provides backing vocals on the acoustic “Born for Me”; keyboardist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers); and Soul Asylum singer/guitarist Dave Pirner, who sang backup on one track.
Westerberg first stumbled into prominence in the 1980s as frontman for raucous indie rockers the Replacements, recording eight albums with the Minneapolis-based band. Their songs ranged in sound from the frantic punk of “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” to the romantic ache of “Within Your Reach.” The foursome broke up in 1991.
Was — who had wanted to work with Westerberg since using the singer’s 1993 album 14 Songs as his daily inspiration while producing the Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge — said the singer/songwriter hasn’t lost a beat.
“I think he’s truly at the peak of his form. The thing that kept going through my mind every time he came up with an idea was, ‘F—, what a great idea. To work with John Lennon in his prime wouldn’t be any better than this,’ ” Was said.
“A lot of times musicians look to producers for answers to questions. Unless he was really stuck there was no point in my saying anything. His ideas were always better than mine.”
While “Bookmark” came nearly instantaneously, Westerberg said other tunes like “Self-Defense” — which describes an uncomfortable dinner setting — kicked around a while before fully taking shape.
“I’d worked a couple years on that melody and I don’t know how I ended up with that line of lyric,” Westerberg said. “I think I took the title first and wrote the song to it. It had to do with anorexia and suicide — the usual uplifting stuff.”