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Return of the grievous angel--a tribute to Gram Parsons, The Road Kings, Paul Westerberg

The Kings must have some self-imposed quota for both style-straddling and unexpected surprises. They visit the Bo Diddleyed voodoo camp in "Casting My Spell" and the Reverend Horton Heat in "Supercop" and "HotWired"; "Holdin' On Again" is a delicious slab of Pete Townshend power chords and rumba, of all things, a retro-metallic lovers' lament torched midway by more Dayton string magic. "Deep Inside" is a highlight, a sin-and-betrayal huncher with one-chord verses, jackknife bridges and Dayton's dastardly vocals. The Road Kings score more often than the Broncos' offense; that they do so in such a fresh fashion is as impressive as the royal appeal of this head-spinning, genre-blending disc. -- Marty Jones

Paul Westerberg
Suicaine Gratifaction
(Capitol)

You can't stay eighteen and drunk forever. To his credit, former Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg appears to have accepted this fact far more readily than his fans, most of whom can be characterized as one-time college-radio-DJ types who still think Tool is something you use in the garden. But while Westerberg's efforts to battle his personal demons over the past decade are laudable, this disc represents the nadir of the steady decline his music has exhibited during that span. Among the hardest cuts to stomach here is "Self-Defense [300K aiff]," on which Westerberg tries unsuccessfully to reinvent himself as a lounge-friendly balladeer. Conversely, "Best Thing That Never Happened," "Tears Rolling Up Our Sleeve," and "It's a Wonderful Lie" indulge the songwriter's penchant for word play so tired it needs Geritol. Fortunately, " Fugitive Kind [262K aiff]" and the jaunty " Whatever Makes You Happy [248K aiff]," through their reliance on spunky temps and lyrics that don't try too hard to make grand statements, strike brighter notes. But even these tunes are flat reminders of the semi-coherent passion that was once Westerberg's trademark. Blame it on age, ennui or the Winona Ryder nookie the singer was apparently enjoying around the time of last year's Oscars -- but his muse has disappeared like the contents of an open keg at a frat party. -- John Jesitus

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