There were lots of good reasons why 2002 was the perfect year for ROIR to reissue the 1980 solo debut by Suicide’s Martin Rev. It was the year of punk’s so-called Silver Jubilee, the 25th anniversary of the biggest year in the ironically anti-nostalgic pop movement of which Rev and collaborator Alan Vega were pioneers. It was the year of electroclash, a genre of synthesized music infused with punk attitude—which might be just as apt a definition of the music Suicide made decades ago. And then there’s the fact that the members of Suicide themselves felt the time was right to reunite for the Mute album American Supreme, their first in a decade.
This is actually the third version of Martin Rev to hit the market. The original 1980 release on Lust/Unlust Records comprised just six tracks, while a reissue on Daft Records added two bonus tracks, “Coal Train” and “Marvel”. The new release includes all those tracks, plus three additional songs recorded at the same 1991 sessions as the previous bonus tracks. Spanning 60 minutes and 11 songs, the latest version of the album is nothing if not a bargain. But Martin Rev provides something besides value—a glimpse into Rev’s songwriting at a time when he was still a full-time member of one of the most influential bands of the past 25 years.
There are enough similarities between Rev’s first solo album and his work with Suicide that it’s easy to see what he brought to the collaboration with Vega. Suicide’s songs range from classic pop to the dissonant and nearly unlistenable, and Martin Rev is no different. The album opens with “Mari”, a slice of gooey-sweet synth-pop that—and this is not a put-down—wouldn’t sound out of place on Depeche Mode’s debut. It is not representative of the entire album, though, as we find out on the next track, “Baby Oh Baby”, the only song to feature vocals and the one that sounds most similar to Suicide. Adopting the same deep, deadpan voice that Vega often uses, Rev offers up robotic come-ons that are as scary as they are sexy (“Oh baby oh baby / Tonight tonight”) over a repetitive synth line and what sounds like mechanical imitations of jungle sounds. “Nineteen 86” is equally ominous, starting out with clanging church bells over industrial noises, building up to a frantic drone, then petering out like a chugging train losing steam. The final three tracks of the original album—“Temptation”, “Jomo”, and “Asia”—are fairly cerebral variations on the theme of juxtaposing industrial and melodic noises (chimes, bells, organ), and varying tempos and volume to create tension. The latter two tracks bring to mind Krautrock and the instrumental work of Brian Eno and demonstrate that Rev’s musical knowledge and talents are less simplistic than they might initially appear from his work with Suicide.
The bonus tracks, which comprise half the disc, were recorded a decade after the original album, so it’s not surprising that they are somewhat different in tone. Despite its rugged title, “Coal Train” is a straight-ahead pop/rock instrumental so un-industrial as to sound polite; “Wes” is similarly straightforward. The epic-length “Marvel” fully exposes the ambient tendencies only hinted at on “Asia”, while the brief “5 to 5” shows Rev can explore avant-garde territory in a mere two minutes. The doo-wop closer “Daydreams” sounds out of place among the ambient experiments, but it’s the most fun of the bonus tracks and brings to mind the ‘50s pop influence heard in Suicide songs like “Cheree” and “Johnny”.
In its new version, Martin Rev is an erratic and sometimes exhausting listen. Given that it veers from industrial to ambient to synth-pop to doo-wop, it’s understandably not the most consistent of listens. Still, it’s an interesting one, and its first six tracks reinforce the assertion that Rev was 20 years ahead of his time.