Eventually found Westerberg wandering too close to the mainstream, and starting to lose identity as a result. While it’s even more subdued, Suicaine Gratification is much rawer and more emotionally loaded than its predecessor, and it’s a far more satisfying record as a result. With the rockers mostly gone, the album’s more or less evenly divided between acoustic ballads and mid tempo folk rock; the former are generally sublime and the latter generally enjoyable.
The key song is ‘Born For Me’; as close to a straight out declaration of love that Westerberg’s written, it’s a simple, poignant piece, and the opening line (“When the loneliest eyes/And the emptiest arms/Finally decide to meet”), Shawn Colvin’s backing vocal, and the one finger piano solo get me every time. Not far behind is the piano based ‘Self-Defense’, with gorgeous melodic fragments in a slightly disorganised structure underpinned with extreme empathy (“It’s wrong to commit a suicide/It’s only in self-defense”) and sympathetic piano from Westerberg. The record is gentle enough to start with the sombre ‘It’s A Wonderful Lie’, while ‘Sunrise Always Listens’ is compelling and gentle. Of the rock tracks, ‘Fugitive Kind’ starts off as a pretty piano piece, before opening out into the most propulsive song on the record, while ‘Lookin’ Out Forever’ and ‘Final Hurrah’ supply the catchy pop craft.
Even though Suicaine Gratification doesn’t have a particularly high reputation among Westerberg fans, I consider it one of his best records.