Thursday 21 July 2016

Top 102 Albums, No Minus 16 - Suicide

Top 102 Albums, No Minus 16
Suicide - Suicide

"Frankie put the gun to his head
(Inarticulate visceral howling of demons)
Frankie's Dead"

The death of Suicide frontman Alan Vega has me listening to Suicide and remembering the key part they played in the development of my musical 'taste'. I first came across Suicide on a mixtape that was made for me when I was repeating the Leaving Certificate and which also included Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground and John Cale. I already knew The Velvets through my early Bowie obsession leading to Lou Reed and Patti Smith and John Cale I had vague intimations of. However, even if I had heard of Suicide I had not heard them and had never even imagined their pulsing, echoing, synth heavy rock 'n' roll.

And even if I had imagined their pulsing, echoing, synth heavy rock'n'roll I hadn't ever imagined Frankie Teardrop, one of the most frightening songs ever committed to tape. At the time I was also mildly obsessed with The Birthday Party and their landscapes of violence and despair and both became a late night fix for me, much to the annoyance of flatmates and residents of nearby bedsits. This is aural Dante, the human voice hanging precariously over the halting, pulsing breath of a machine made Mephistopheles. Starting like a close relation of Patti Smith's Piss Factory it ends like The Mercy Seat without the mercy.

This leads into a funeral march for Ché Guevara, the face that launched a million bedsit wall posters. The half-hearted 'hurray hurray's echo the "Let's Hear it for Frankie" refrains that intersect Frankie Teardrop's descent into the underworld. It feels like Alan Vega is inviting us to sing along, like the audience on some ghastly game show.

The first side opens with Ghost Rider, a song I already knew.   It is urgent, pulsing, primitive and futuristic. It is as if the world has accelerated forward into the past. The actual world seems more and more like this time travelling phantasm on his plasmatic motorcycle, all death's heads and napalm breath. It insistently whispers FOLLOW ME while silently asking WHERE?

Rocket USA stays on the motorcycle, all the way to doomsday. This is the real Motorcycle Emptiness.
"Rocket rocket USA
Shooting on down the highway
TV star riding aorund
Riding around in a killer's car
It's nineteen seventy seven
Whole country's doing a fix
It's doomsday doomsday"

This is followed by the haunting, obsessive, erotically charged Cheree with twinkling beauty in the background, like cheap tin stars falling from the sky. Who shot the sheriff? "Shut the door baby", we make our own laws in here.

Johnny could be Thunders or Rotten or any male who covers need with braggadocio, leather and studs barely holding the pulsing heartskin from splitting.

Side One ends up close and personal, not with death but life in its nagging, insistent, fumbling desire to carry on.

And carry on it does, still sounding fresh and ominous after nearly forty years. Goodbye Alan, you left your mark. Not a saint, But essential.

Hurray Hurray.


  1. Oddly enough, Suicide had passed me by until I heard about Alan Vega's death on the news fairly recently. Very strange, especially given the fact that I was into several of their contemporaries in the days of my youth (Bowie, Patti Smith, Television and the Velvets, of course). Will have to give this a listen.

    1. Hope you enjoy it Jacqui. Although I've foregrounded it here Frankie Teardrop may be a difficult one to start with (although Springsteen was a fan and says he was inspired to write Highway Patrolman by it). I started with Ghost Rider and Dream Baby Dream (from their second album, also great) and couldn't suggest any better starting points.

  2. Nice piece S, I've been blowing the dust off this album, he did great vocals would love to have seen them live

    1. Never got to see them either. Their early gigs were supposed to have been incredibly confrontational. When I get that time machine..