Red Star Records, 1977

REVIEW BY: Graham Drennan


Suicide, along with so few other musicians or recording artists, had the ability to musically recreate intense human emotions; suffocation, sexual desire, alienation, desparation; and they managed to accomplish such visions using some cheap electronic gear and a demented frontman - Alan Vega.

Vega was one truly schismatic member of human society: Some random quotes:

"It's not worth living unless you can move on"

"When I feel satisfied I get worried".

Like Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, Vega was beyond the realm of society; Vega felt what was really there, and was prepared to spill blood toward his cause. The reader of genteel disposition should be warned here, that we're not discussing someone in the Carly Simon stable. No, Vega was a thoroughbred, an intense, dynamo of a performer. Vegagod (as some are wont to term him) is a very different apparition - a deviant even by punk rock standards. When the Clash toured the UK in 78, with Suicide as support - the pro-Clash lobby bottled and attacked the band on a nightly basis, whilst Vega - an electric wire, charged with amphetemines and a warped sense of narcissism assualted himself, with his microphone - beating himself about the head - slashing himself up - screaming "Ahm on your side maaaaan".

Suicide's '77 debut offering is a masterpiece, and pioneering lo-fi. It features some tremendous reverb and echo effects (dub fans take note, there's some ear shattering delay) and the songs are generally built around two-chords only serving to increase the intensity. Martin Rev (credited with 'Instrument' on the back sleeve (and wearing the biggest and coolest pair of shades you've ever seen) is the maestro; clearly one of few men alive who can orchestrate Vega's verbal psychosis.

Suicide begins as it means to continue; with "Rocket USA" - two chord viterol against the hedonism enveloping America in the late 1970's;

It's nineteen hundred and seventy seven/

the whole country is doin fix/

its doomsday, doomsday.

In these words the hypocracy, degeneracy, desparation and inevitable burnout is conveyed to the listener within two minutes of the needle touching the vinyl - a world of "TV stars ridin around in killers cars". Genteel listener beware, it goes deeper.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Ghost Rider" (remember the Marvel superhero?) kicks in where "Rocket USA" offers reprieve, taking up a similar theme - "America, America is killin its youth" chants Vega before Rev's keyboard riff is joined by a jarring guitar refrain hammering the image into the psyche (this, let me remind you is the second track). What's also a key feature here is the instrumental minimalism - making the voice of Vega stand out, amplifying every grunt, groan, sigh - in fact you can imagine Vega's sneer (you can hear the dissatisfaction), it punctuates passages of music, like percussion (which I'll get on to later).

"Cheree" slows down the pace; but it's no less intense - devoloping the group's overwhelming sound into areas of fetish and extereme sexual desire. It unravels so many addictive, complex and confusing states of desire into a four minute epic; "Cheree" feels like cocaine bugs, the caress of long, sharp, bright red fingernails, six inch heels, pale white flesh; pleasure which you know can be had, but you can't have it, it's out of reach - a high piched xylophone sound soon permeates the music, with delicious melody - disorientating - sort of queasy, while Vega succulently describes his "black leather lady", wanting her to "come play with me" - teasing the listener; the appetite aroused but never fulfilled. "Cheree" is tight and shiny. Not since "Venus In Furs" has masochism been so accuratley represented as an audio experience.

OK so this leaves the centerpiece - "Frankie Teardrop." It's a story. A New York story. A 20 year old man, out of work, no luck, got a wife and kid, "just tryin to survive"; he's fighting a losing battle. Feelings of inadequacy, claustrophobia, uselessness, isolation, despondency layer over Frankie like a veil; a mask he cannot remove, New York is hell; Vega's skillful lyricism and Rev's rythmic intensity, set the New York slums ablaze with hellish feelings of worthlessness and alienation; it all becomes overbearing, too much, there's no escape, he can't take anymore, the volume increses the beat pounds into the mind; when finally:

Frankie takes a gun...

points it at the three month old kid in the crib...

points it at his wife...shot her...

Frankie with a gun to his head...Frankie's dead

But there's no escape in death, Frankie finds himself in hell - no different than before. Then "We're all Frankies...We're all lyin in hell" - the introverted, (self) obsessive nature of the song is turned outward, and we are all forced to assess our own situation; in this case New York projects (like a humourless Hubert Selby penetrating Eraserhead). I often worry about the sheer adrenaline fixated addictiveness "Frankie Teardrop" has...

Oh yeah, the percussion. Well, it's all heavy beats and loops; rapid fire. However, let's not confuse with Heavy Industrial Rock / Techno. This music, albeit of a level of excrutiating intensity, an assualt on the senses has roots - this is music recorded not just for its own sake, but because its creators have felt like this; they have experienced outpourings of these emotions. OK so Suicide may have provided the groundwork for much of today's electronica and techno styles; but many of the current crop of avant garde (yeah you know who you are!!!), well they use machines to make music, machines are inhuman, therefore no content - WRONG: Suicide represent the opposite; they prove the contrary.

Before I go, let's put Suicide into context; into the grand scheme. They were a post-Velvets, pre-no wave band of New York lunatics, who made some of the most creative and imaginative music tape machines have ever had the pleasure to be allowed to record.

Not for lightweights.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 1997 Graham Drennan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Red Star Records, and is used for informational purposes only.