Been listening to Suicide again this fall and decided to repost this from my Fall Music Blog of two years ago (click the headline if you wanna revisit the original post):
Suicide -- Self-titled and Ghost Riders
I've been hearing whispers about Suicide for a long time; adjectives like "influential," "underrated," "difficult" get bandied around quite a bit. Curious, I picked up Ghost Riders first, not knowing it was a live album. Still, it hooked me in and compelled me to dig up more of their stuff and read up on the band.
This decidedly unorthodox New York duo cut their teeth for most of the 1970s before finally releasing their first album in '77. As "punk" as anything else out there, Suicide eschew volume, noise and bombast in favor of cheap-sounding synth-drum loops and super-repetitive, eerily subdued electric keyboard patterns. Over this hypnotic sonic foundation (provided by Martin Rev), vocalist Alan Vega unleashes streams of harrowing verbiage and primal scream therapy. Vega's tortured narratives are as evocative of pre-80s New York as anything by Lou Reed, I'd wager. Check out "Frankie Teardrop" -- yikes.
Suicide's first two albums (both eponymous, as far as I can tell) are packaged on a single compact disc. The first one is better, in my opinion; the band's nightmare evocation of urban decay is best viewed under the harsh white light of a naked bulb, and the debut is as stark and raw and unadorned as can be. But the second album, produced by Ric Ocasek, oddly sounds, in some ways, more bizarre than the first. More conventional-sounding (although nowhere near commercial), Ocasek's production job couches Suicide's desperate worldview in smoothe, schmaltzy, chintzy sonics. It is so weird. In some ways it's more subversive -- halfway between pleasant and unbearable. I still haven't got my head around it but it's fascinating to hear.
The live disc Ghost Riders captures a live performance from 1981 (originally released on cassette-only ROIR) and gets much closer to the vibe of that unsettling debut. I can't imagine how confused the audiences must have been...