Review Summary: Our own Suicide Boys take on synth-pop and win. Gloriously.
Suicide were well known for attracting all sorts of misfits to their now notorious punk extravaganzas. Genuine fans would regularly find themselves rubbing shoulders with some of the more aggressive transvestites, hells angels, pimps and pushers in town, all angry and warped from the cold streets of New York, looking for a cheap night out at a gig they'd been reliably informed that "anything could go".
And make no mistake, any, and everything very regularly did go at Suicide gigs. And not just your standard punk fare of stage invasions and mosh pits, but truly despicable acts of cruelty to the main act, Alan Vega and Martin Rev, despicable verbal abuse, acts of physical abuse, theft, vandalism, and generally every and anything that would go a fair distance to push even the most forgiving and determined musician to hang up his keytar. But not Suicide.
From the off the band established themselves as outsiders, both socially and musically, both members being more predominantly artists and sculptors, who seemed to have just out of the blue taken up the helm of punk saviors. On their first effort in 1977 Suicide burst onto music in a shower of blood; angry poly-rhythms mixing with Alan Vega's own brand of space rockabilly, to produce a maddeningly intense 40 minute listen that sounded like all the good things about life put in a centrifuge with all the bad things, with Elvis Presley in there for good mix.
The very few listeners Suicide must have gained from this monumentally brash and downright harsh debut album must have thought it a bizarre fluke for such a cohesive album to be born out of nothing, let alone the idea of following up the record with an equally consistent, and potentially better release. Little did these fans know though that Suicide had been brooding in a dank basement for about 4 years before they released anything on Vinyl.
So we now come to the imaginatively titled Second Album. And what of it? Does it feature more bursts of synth and drum with crooning atop? Does it feature extended pieces about Vietnam Vets having a hard time coping back home? Well no, it doesn't feature any of that really.
From the first track; Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne, we see Suicide in a bizarrely different mood, one that pertains throughout, a style of music that seems not too far removed from the sweet dulcet tones of Gary Numan, New Order and Depeche Mode. Other tracks like Mr. Ray, Fast Money Music, Harlem, Dance and Shadazz (Recently covered by the Horrors) all share the same feel. One of a geeky, glitchy optimism in the face of nothing but concrete, dirt and decay. These tracks make up around half the album, and while they are upbeat it begins to dawn during Dance that Suicide are now recognizing themselves as innovators. Outside innovators perhaps, and ones that will certainly remain undiscovered for many years, but innovators nonetheless. During Shadazz it seems almost conceivable that Alan Vega would jump for joy, possibly at the idea that he might not have his microphone stolen anymore.
Some tracks seem to glisten with a sexy sweat, whereas others immediately change in the light to be bathed in a disgusting hateful cannibalistic sweat. Suicide really do know how to destroy, and make a song. On the other half of the album, they employ more of a sonic approach to their raw sound, making use of wide sprawling synthesiser drones on Touch Me, Be-Bop Kid, (The Aphex Twin sampled) Las Vegas Man and Super Subway Comedian, and although these tracks seem to lack the focus in comparison to the more trimmed and pruned earlier half of the album, they show a band experimenting in what it does best, creating nasty and confrontational music on synthesizers. There are even a few ballads here, the wonderfully tender Sweetheart, and the equally glitchy, but equally fun single, Dream Baby Dream. These moments of synth-balladry go further to show Suicide as real musicians on this album, ones who want a fully formed album that shows off their merits as burgeoning songwriters and creators of an entire genre and sub-culture.
The album has a wider implication than just being a 'classic' though. This album is one of the first to fully realise the potential of synthesizers in creating melodic pop music, and though it's a huge way removed from 'Just Can't Get Enough', it provides a more than adequate blueprint in terms of the look (one techno-geek on the instruments, and a camp good looking guy singing over the top of it), the instructions and cool nonchalant attitudes surrounding it. Alan Vega and Martin Rev were the first musicians to combine just a synthesiser / drum machine and vocals. And did it work? Just ask the bands they influenced, and are still influencing today. Regardless, Alan Vega is probably quite pleased with himself, as he apparently hasn't had his microphone stolen for about 20 years.