Monday, January 01, 2007

Suicide: 1st Album

I hadn't thought of this until today but 2007 will mark the 30th anniversary for this album. I was listening just yesterday to an oddball song by a band that made it to alot of Best of Lists (The Knife's stomach-turning - but in a good way - "Na Na Na") and it struck me that if Suicide hadn't invented the cold, horror movie electronic landscapes in this album that it might have taken us about 30 years to figure it out.

I'm gonna forswear posting or talking too much about the obvious ones here - I mean they're all great tracks which if you haven't already heard then shame on ya-- everyone listens to "Rocket U.S.A." and "Ghost Rider" over and over again, right? The thing that strikes me from listening to those more well-known songs and some of the others here is how influenced they were by 50's rock and roll and 60's garage rock. It's said that Vega used Elvis Presley as a model for his singing and I can believe it, kinda like a half-dead Elvis but then again he was kinda half-dead for most of the '70's.

I think one of the things that made the band's later records a bit lame was the "updating" of the influences (hip hop, new wave) rather than this more, uh, removed feel that they got by "futurizing" the past - that sort of retro-sci-fi feel, neh?

Then there's "Frankie Teardrop" -- that's in a class all of its own although it's what I think about most when I listen to a lot of bands these days -- and back in the '80s when bands like Big Stick were doing their more lo-fi thing. It's a song that I often find I can't listen to all the way through - but not because it's bad but it's so terrifying and real.

That said, I'm going to recommend today we consider the girl songs... start with uhm "Girl." The cha-cha beat and lounge lizard organ riff complement Vega's slinky yet sleepy seduction. He's like Iggy in another more laid-back dimension. That said, was I the only one surprised to learn Vega wasn't gay?

"Cheree" has the same feel, using those infamous "Wild Thing/La Bamba" chord riffs that fueled many, many garage band marathon jams. Rev's atmospherics, though, are what make this special to me - I can see why Steve Albini said that this was the only album he listened to that made his mother question whether he was on drugs. It was either this song or "Frankie"...

Suicide selections (all songs deleted after a few days so keep up with me here):

a scan of the back cover photo (credited to Michael Robinson)

These songs were ripped from the Dutch East India / Red Star mid-80's reissue of this classic album. Since then, Mute Records has been the keeper of the flame for Suicide. Their Suicide web page bio is as good as any and you can probably still find some new copies of the 2002 reish (and remaster) of the Blast First 1998 reissue - both of which came with a second CD of live performances from 1978.

In 2005, an "oral biography" of Suicide - called Suicide: No Compromise was released. I have yet to read it but it looks pretty cool. The previous link comes from the Suicide fan web site which includes a pretty extensive discography.

Some related listening:

  • "Crosses, 16 Blazin' Skulls" - Alan Vega from the latest Wire Magazine Tapper CD suggests that maybe he's kinda getting it back. Still I miss the "soul" of Martin Rev in here - Liz Lamere, his partner, does some of the keyboards. It's from a Spring 2007 release Station which is described as: " It is a diamond hard, gritty, electronic album with Vega’s signature neartime sci-fi , twisted vision of life & love in the 21st century & beyond."
  • "Na Na Na" - The Knife (in m4a format) in which a scared housewife wishes chemical castration upon a rapist uses the same minimal cold electronic soundscapes that Suicide might have coupled with a affecting voice (like Vega) and a warmer throbbing electronic sound that mirrors the essential bleakness the hopeless - yet very human - prayer.

And In Other Blogs:


John said...

What'd you think of their later stuff w/Ric Ocasek and of Ocasek's pilfering of their sound for "Panorama"?

And yeah, I was shocked that Vega played for the other team, too.

Jim H said...

Even though I sold it in college to pay for expenses, I kinda liked Panorama at least from what I remember - not enuf to keep it but hey I wanted to buy beer. Everyone pilfers everyone but some song-writing credits would have been nice. I heard Vega was quite bitter about this and other bands like Sigue Sigue Sputnik (who ripped off titles) - not so much about the bands but the record industry, I guess.

Still, I can understand why mainstream business dudes were a bit wary. I didn't write at all about Vega's onstage antics which rivaled Iggy in terms of freakiness - wearing old lady wigs, fake scars, wrapping microphone chords around people's necks, licking their faces, breaking glasses. Thurston Moore described the audience at a show barricading the stage with tables and chairs to keep Vega away from them.

Apparently, they weren't THAT bitter about Ocasek as he produced their 1992 album (perhaps as payback?).

Mars said...

Well, I love Sputnik and, no doubt, Suicide was a good 1/3rd of their sound - but they openly admitted it and made it clear in the liner notes of pretty much every record about who they were pilfering. I mean, that was part of their whole trip.

Not to mention that just about everyone has stolen from Suicide at one point or another - off the top o' my head: Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen, sSs, ARE Weapons, ah there's waay more but I'm drawing blanks...

Vega was just too damn REAL to make it. Have you seen the videos from his Saturn Strip era? Here he is trying to make a polished commercial effort and he's twitching, prowling, missing his lipsync cues, looking like he hasn't slept in a few years, and basically still resembles the terrifying 70's New York in an 80's MTV pastel and neon landscape. It's awesome, of course, but Frankie Goes To Hollywood it wasn't.