This is one of those albums that’s widely held up as massively inspirational, a classic, but simultaneously one that would very likely be unheard of by all but the most informed ‘man in the street’. Suicide were associated with the New York-based No Wave microscene of the late 1970s, but seemed somehow detached from it, defiantly (and definitely) getting on with things on their own terms. I wasn’t in New York in the late ’70s – I was in a sleepy, refined suburb of Liverpool – but everything I’ve read seems to suggest that Suicide’s live performances were something of a trigger to much of No Wave’s aggressive, confrontational stance. I’ve also read, however, that Suicide took things further than their peers/followers may have wished to, with more in the way of actual violence and up-in-your-face shock tactics being employed.
Regardless of history and context, I think Suicide hold up as a 100% cool band for several reasons:
- The name. Single-word band names are often a good thing, but once somebody’s taken the word, it’s gone forever, and may have been wasted. Suicide (the band) seem the perfect match for suicide (the word) – nihilistic, direct, unequivocal.
- The artwork. This record’s front cover is superb. No messing about, just elegantly shattered typography and gory streaks of blood. It could have been a neo-goth faux-artistic statement of a sleeve, but the white background sets it off as such a stark image that it seems as if it’s always existed, and somehow created itself as a direct result of the music within.
- The band members. As the sleeve says: ALAN – Vocals. MARTIN REV – Instrument. Again, stark and direct. Reclaiming the name ‘Alan’ as something cool and otherworldly. ‘Instrument’: that’s all you need to know. Alan’s band surname was Vega; neither Alan or Martin’s band surnames were their own. According to Wikipedia, their original names were Boruch Alan Bermowitz and Martin Reverby. Those in themselves are pretty cool names.
- The music. If you haven’t heard it, well, you should listen. I don’t think anything has ever sounded like the music on this album, beforehand or afterwards. What do you know, it’s on Spotify.
For all their coolness, Suicide almost destroyed their own myth for me when I saw them perform a few years ago. The terror and risk I was expecting was pushed aside and replaced with slightly camp onstage prancing, oversized shades on a man who wasn’t as young as he used to be, and – although this wasn’t their fault – being made to perform on a huge stage that completely usurped the whites-of-the-eyes closeness that I think is really necessary to experience this music being played live.
I say they almost destroyed the myth, but they didn’t succeed. This album is strong enough to pretty much deal with any such assaults on its integrity.