After almost two years of promises, let me bring you the first official album review on my blog. Today we’ll be looking at the first self-titled album by Suicide.
Suicide is a synthpunk group formed in the 1970’s by New Yorkers Alan Vega (vocals) and Martin Rev (music). Synthesizers were cost-prohibitive in the 70’s, so Martin Rev’s parts were all played on an organ run through a fuzzbox. The result was something very unique, to the point that audiences hated the band! People’d hear the music, go to the shows, and get very confrontational with the band. There’s reports of riots at gigs, including one during a show supporting Elvis Costello which has been commercially released on CD. The band’s been vindicated by history, though: they influenced artists such as The Cars, The Sisters of Mercy, R.E.M., Henry Rollins, and even Bruce Springsteen. Their first album is their best known, and is commonly regarded as a classic and a point of origin for modern electronic music.
01. “Ghost Rider” The song is based around a very relentless riff, with lyrics relating to the comic character of the same name. Definitely the most up-tempo song on the album, and a good place to start. It definitely creates a picture of speeding down the highway, in its own way: I could see it being good driving music.
02. “Rocket U.S.A.” This is where Suicide’s artsy tendencies kick in: the song kicks off with very palpable tension. A very heavy-sounding bass part over the primitive drum machine create the doomy atmosphere for most of the song, as Alan Vega’s tuneless vocals are delivered nervously, punctuated with a chorus of quick, singular yelps. One of the most classic songs off this iconic album.
03. “Cheree” The song is driven by a heavenly organ and is the closest thing to a pop song you’ll find here. It’s actually a really cool ballad and shows a side of Suicide that often gets overshadowed by some of the other songs they’ve done. There’s no tricks on this one: it’s just a gentle song.
04. “Johnny” An almost hilarious pastiche of 50’s rockabilly! Except, y’know, with Martin Rev’s organ and that sprinkler/drum machine thing instead of guitars. It is sort of the closest thing to filler on this album, but it’s got a certain charm about it.
05. “Girl” This one gets a bit funky, with a seductive bass part. Vega’s usual shouts and screams are traded here for orgasmic moans between his pleas to be pleased. It’s pretty tame by today’s standards, but I could see this song being another nail in Suicide’s coffin with the 70’s public. Of course, this is before we get to…
06. “Frankie Teardrop” It’s very rare for a band’s masterpiece to be their best-known song, and thankfully Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” holds that distinction. I could compare it to their “November Rain” or “Stairway to Heaven,” but that would imply that there’s something truly epic or bombastic about the song, something that future generations would attempt to imitate and put their stamp on. To be frank, you know exactly what to expect musically of Suicide by this point of the album: bizarre drum machines and repetitive organs run through fuzzboxes. However this song’s executed so perfectly that nobody–not even Suicide themselves–could ever recreate the magic of this 10 minute opus. It’s often been called one of the most disturbing songs ever recorded, and anyone who’s ever heard it will almost certainly agree with that claim: the tension on “Rocket U.S.A.” is intensified here. The lyrics aren’t poetry about comic book characters: they’re the straight-forward breakdown of a working-class man. They’re delivered with such haunting fervor, it’s mesmerizing and creepy as fuck!
07. “Che” For all intents and purposes, “Frankie Teardrop” should end the record. I mean, how can Suicide top that? The answer is that they don’t actually try, but still leave on an eerie note. “Che” is a dirge about revolutionary Che Guevara (a.k.a. the Cuban t-shirt man), and is probably a lot more relevant now than it was at release. In the time since then, Che’s death and message have been commodified into emblems printed on shirts, worn by people who have no idea what the fuck it means: Vega’s lyrics seem to predict this phenomenon. A dark song, to be sure, and actually a really good closer.