Surrender by SuicideRelease date: April 8, 2022
Let’s get something out of the way first off the bat: Suicide’s influence is palpable.
Just take a look at the synth pop duos that sprung up in the 80s. From Soft Cell to Pet Shop Boys and Tears For Fears, they all took pointers from Suicide’s blueprint. It doesn’t stop there either. Noise artists, electronic dance goliaths (LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy claimed that they changed his life), techno producers, comedians (it’s very hard to believe that the recurring musical twosome of Casey and His Brother in Tim & Eric’s sketch show are in no way a spoof of Martin Rev and Alan Vega), and then there’s rock legend and self-avowed Suicide head Bruce Springsteen whose ’82 record Nebraska is heavily indebted to the New York pair. So much so that Alan Vega believed that he must have written ‘State Trooper’ himself the first time that he heard it. Their music is legacy.
So, for those less familiar with Suicide’s work, what does Surrender offer? Their sound is formed of motorik beats looping beneath raspy arpegiatted bass lines whilst the ratchet ghost of Gene Vincent claws wildly at his own eyes. This is not music as fun or diversion – Rev and Vega are not here to entertain you. They regularly described Suicide’s sound as shoving the street right into their audience’s face. They came up a hard and violent way: confronting hostile audience members in Brussels resulting in a full-scale riot, self-harming with broken beer bottles to scare off potential attackers, and dodging intentionally thrown axes in Glasgow. They dealt with antagonists head on and had the scars to prove it.
Opener ‘Dominic Christ’ sets the tone for this collection magnificently. The jaunty bounce forcefully clashing with Vega’s demented howl for cigarettes as if a kerbside scuffle is about to kick off. This discordance is further exemplified on the self-explanatory track ‘Dachau, Disney, Disco’. These jarring bedfellows forming a bitter sonic soup whilst the electronics erupt like fireworks in a moog warehouse. Then there’s ‘Wrong Decisions’, from the final studio album, which brings in a collage of hip-hop beats and horn samples, welcoming in a more contemporary NYC. The subject matter was no less subversive, however, with lyrics like “mom’s not breathing” at direct odds with the rap instrumental’s cool swagger.
Entering into Suicide’s word is like facing up to the bilious realities of the American Dream. ‘Harlem’ sounds like an Elvis sample that has been festering in a basement, repeating itself over and over to the point of insanity and the swaying titular track, with its 50’s pop ’n’ roll balladry, reflects an entirely Lynchian aesthetic right back at the enigmatic filmmaker. Whilst there are sweet melodic hooks buried within the mutated pop of classics ‘Cheree’ and ‘Dream Baby Dream’, it is always undercut with an intense paranoia that builds, twitches, and spirals down and down.
This is best encapsulated in the 10 minute plus tour de fear of ‘Frankie Teardrop’ (extended to a healthy 13 minutes on the “first version” here). A murderous narrative set to panic attack synth stabs and a tachycardiac kick drum. On this track, in particular, it’s clear that the sound has been beefed up. The bass throbs are thickened out whilst Vega sings like a strung-out Roy Orbison crooning over Throbbing Gristle’s gnarly electronics.
One criticism that could be levelled at those early recordings is that sometimes they sounded a bit thin. This often meant that other sounds – ghosts in the machine – crept in like electronic spectres. Filling the sound out here, whilst bolstering it with a muscular frame, comes at the cost of the eerie carnival swirl that helped to mythologise the original recordings. It felt snatched off the street. Bled in from a rogue radio. Like something wrong and clandestine that you had no right to be hearing.
In much the same way as Martin Hannett’s production on Unknown Pleasures infuriated Peter Hook & Bernard Sumner but came to define Joy Division’s music as futuristic then and timeless now, so too did those creeping noises poking their head through the slim veneer of the self titled records. Suicide’s inspirational tendrils reach out beyond aesthetics, sound, fearlessness, and style to deliver something a little more than all of that combined. Something a little unhinged but undeniably them. It was an approach that was unique and, despite many pale imitators, remains so even today.
Revisiting Suicide’s output leads you to wonder if those who trundled along in their wake could have handled the extreme situations that they endured. Perhaps these newly remastered iterations are more akin to that live experience of Suicide: A relentless bashing that won’t give an inch. Like Rollins explains in his liner notes: “This gathering of songs is not a best-of”. It’s a taste of something now gone. It’s a captured moment. The sound of an axe whistling past your cheek.