Saturday, January 2, 2010

446. Suicide. Genuinely terrifying stuff.

Album: Suicide.

Artist: Suicide.

Year: 1977

Genre: Audio terror.

  1. Ghost Rider
  2. Rocket U.S.A.
  3. Cheree
  4. Johnny
  5. Girl
  6. Frankie Teardrop
  7. Che

Suicide is not an album I’d recommend to the faint of heart. To be honest I couldn’t really recommend it to anyone but certainly not to people who need to sleep with the lights on. It’s designed to be dark and scary and it culminates on the most unquestionably terrifying thing I’ve ever heard on record.

There are only two members of Suicide and one of them doesn’t play an instrument at all which means all the sounds heard behind the vocals are created by one guy. Normally this would make him a multi instrumentalist but since all the sounds are created by synthesizers and drum machines it makes him more of a “guy who can operate two machines.” Traditionally synths are used to give tracks more of a light and breezy feel. When you think about synthesizers in pop music they’re usually part of a bouncy pop song- not part of… this.

The soundscapes on Suicide are straight out of a David Lynch film. They’re dark and brooding and really spooky while occasionally being highly evocative. Ghost Rider, the opening track, is about a motor bike riding comic book hero (later played by Nic Cage in a movie that nobody bothered to watch) and the music perfectly evokes the sound of someone riding a chopper down the highway without ever using an actual motor bike. You could tell it was about a motorcycle rider even if the vocals weren’t there.

The drum machines on Suicide create rhythms but never noises that sound like actual drums. The synths provide noises that aren’t trying to replicate instruments as much as create a mood. Occasionally something that resembles an actual organ bubbles to the surface but generally the sounds are more like industrial machinery and droning robotics than anything you could buy in a music store. There is also a constant, repetitive rattle which is really disturbing in a way that I can’t describe.

The other half of Suicide provides the vocals which are just as unsettling as the music. Alan Vega doesn’t really sing the lyrics he utters them in an echo-laden monotone that sounds just like the narrator of your worst nightmare. For most of the album he simply breathes his words into a microphone but on occasion he becomes more…involved. One such example is on Girl when the woman in question turns him on. While a steady drone seethes behind him he proceeds to replicate a sexual experience and full on orgasm. It’s slightly disturbing but nothing compared to the next track.

Frankie Teardrop is the most unsettling thing I’ve ever listened to. For ten minutes Suicide relate to us the tale of a man who can’t afford to feed his wife and child so instead he kills them and then commits suicide and suffers in hell. The story itself is disturbing enough but the track adds an extra element of spook with the backing "music" which starts of sounding like a hellish factory and by the end sounds like hell itself. And then there’s the screaming. The gunshots in the narrative are represented by ear-piercing shrieks laden with echo and mixed at a much higher volume than the rest of the song. They’re made all the more terrifying by the content of the lyrics which does draw you in. As the vocalist said “Frankie picked up a gun… pointed it at the six month old kid in the crib…oh Frankie” I found myself listening intently saying “No Frankie don’t do it” so when the scream came it was a real jolt. The howl that accompanies the murder of Frankie’s wife is even worse and then finally his demented wailing in hell is just painful to hear. I have to admire them for creating such an amazing experience using just sound but I never, ever want to hear it again.

It staggers me that Suicide were apparently really good live. The concept is mind boggling. One guy standing in front of a microphone talking away while someone stands nearby flicking switches. It’s an odd concept but not nearly as strange as the idea that people would pay money saying “I really hope they play that one about the guy who kills his family, that track rocks!”

Highlight: Frankie Teardrop, it’s an impressive achievement.

Lowlight: Frankie Teardrop- it’s agonizing to hear.

Influenced by: Comics, The Velvet Underground and apparently a desire to pioneer a new musical direction.

Influenced: I can hear a lot of Nick Cave in this.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Qoute: "Im sorry, but this is not entertaining music, infact its very very annoying to the ears...i can even recall the misfits early demo stuff having an entertaning synth sound in there music( and that was just plain laughable, but wasnt terrible). This music however, is not "music", and anyone who can actually sit down and listen to this all the way through and try to tell me that I dont get the "artistic value" them i say, Enjoy sniffing your own farts the rest of your life"

-enjoy sniffing your own farts. Ouch! Take that Suicide lovers!

So would you rather suicide than listen to suicide or are you a big fan of murder/suicide narratives complete with aural depictions of eternal suffering in hell? Let me know below.


  1. So, did you like this album?
    It sounds like you were impressed, but it is ambiguous as to whether or not you like it or not.
    Btw this album is truly ahead of its time in a lot of different ways. The fact that it was released in 1977 is incredible, actually.

    1. I wouldn't say I like it in the same way I like albums that I listen to all the time but as you say, I'm impressed. I can appreciate that something amazing has been pulled off and a difficult trick has been accomplished well. But I've never felt the need to listen to it again after I finished this review.