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Essential Records: Suicide’s Self-Titled Debut

Posted by Amoebite, July 7, 2016 03:00pm | Post a Comment

Essential Records Suicide

Originally released in 1977, NYC duo Suicide’s self-titled LP is more punk rock than the Sex Pistols, TelevisionRamones, or any other band typically identified with the era. Eschewing raucous guitar riffs for primitive drum machines beats and distorted synths, Alan Vega and Martin Rev had been making music together since 1970, long before the concept of punk was even a remunerative gleam in Malcolm McLaren’s eye. Lots of punks hated them, in fact, with an audience member at a 1978 gig supporting The Clash in Glasgow going so far as to throw an axe at Vega’s head. Rolling Stone called the album “absolutely puerile.” (The magazine later recanted and listed the LP at number 441 on their list of the best 500 albums of all time.)

The first time I heard album opener “Ghost Rider,” I was on my way home after a night out with a friend--a moment that wouldn't have been at all remarkable, except for its soundtrack. “What is this?” I asked, with a barely restrained urgency. Asking this question was no small feat; I was twenty-one, the youngest person working at my hometown’s best record store, and one of the few girls on staff. As a matter of pride, I did NOT want to admit that I didn’t know something about music — especially when everyone else seemed to already know about it. But this was more important than pride. It was inventive, bold, paranoid, intelligent, and very, very dark. It was, as my friend told me, Suicide’s first album.

Suicide has that effect on a lot of people. Depeche Mode, New Order, U2, and Bruce Springsteen (an early advocate, whose Nebraska album was clearly inspired by the LP) have all listed the band as an influence. Their impact can be seen in the music of such innovators as Aphex Twin, Sonic Youth, Soft Cell and Spacemen 3, to name just a few. They’ve been covered by Lydia Lunch, Primal Scream, Peaches, Grinderman, Julian Cope, Spiritualized, The Horrors, and Sunn 0))).

Suicide LP ReissueAlthough it was released nearly forty years ago, Suicide is one of those rare albums that never sounds dated, thanks to the timeless nature of its themes (working class struggles! abuses of power! unease! romance!) and Rev and Vega’s evolutionary songwriting. It probably also helps that, since their musical equipment wasn’t always in top-notch working order, the duo was forced into inventive solutions just to conjure out distinguishable sounds. “Ghost Rider” is a deformed take on the rock ’n’ roll road song, punctuated by Vega’s anguished howls and the unforgettable chorus, “Baby, baby, baby, baby, he's screaming the truth! America, America is killing its youth.” 

From there it just gets darker.

“Rocket USA” features ghostly, half-heard vocals, bristling synth tones and echoing, distant keys. The droning “Cheree,” with whispered torch song vocals and a fragile, twinkling keyboard melody is the band’s most upbeat track (or least unsettling, depending on how you see things). “Frankie Teardrop” is a chilling ten and a half minute experience (note that I did not call it a “song”), inspired by a news story Vega read about an impoverished factory worker who loses his job and returns home to murder his nearest and dearest. Album closer “Che,” in turn, is almost gentle; there’s an edge beneath the murmured vocals, but the rumbling synths create an almost lulling repetition, built up by the sudden appearance of the bright-toned Farfisa organ.

Alan Vega Martin Rev

Superior Viaduct recently gave Suicide the fancy LP reissue treatment, restoring the tracks from the original mixes. This new release features liner notes from another name synonymous with New York City’s late ‘70s/early ‘80s downtown scene: Thurston Moore.They're also reissuing the band's excellent sophomore LP, Suicide: Alan Vega Martin Rev on July 15th.

 

-- by Alison Stolpa

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Essential Records (35), Suicide (10), Vinyl Reissue (39), Alan Vega (3), Martin Rev (1)