DJ scratches and funk guitar samples? No. This must be wrong. This can’t be a Suicide album—where are the minimalist electronic beats? The proto-industrial mayhem? The punk aesthetic? Alan Vega’s harrowing, deadpan voice? This was not the sound of one of my favorite musical artists; this wasn’t the archetypal synth-punk; this wasn’t the music that inspired riots among the punk kids of the ‘70s. But it was—and it is.
American Supreme, Suicide’s fifth studio album, is a record of experimentation and renovation to one of the most blindingly revolutionary beacons of ‘70s punk—and nothing’s been the same since. They were exploding New York’s circuit before punk was even “punk”, yet it was nothing like the three chord bops the Ramones were penning—in fact, it was completely lacking chords altogether. Suicide were the complete antithesis of punk—replete with a minimalist two members, a lone keyboard, sans drums or guitars—yet completely vital to its existence and evolution as an innovative, nihilistic art form.
After a hiatus of an entire decade, Suicide attempt to revitalize the same musical demographic they riled and overturned with their first two albums 25 years prior. But what does the belated American Supreme accomplish? Sadly, not much. “Televised Executions”, the opening track with the aforementioned DJ inflections and funk guitar samplings, buries their previous incendiary synth-punk beneath a façade of turntable slices and tired vocals. Of course, Alan Vega and Martin Rev, the duo that have comprised Suicide for over 30 years, would feel a need to reinvent their sonic personalities with touches of diversity and previously alien instruments, but American Supreme accomplishes little more than tarnishing their chrome-plated punk and sending it on a winding downward spiral.
With American Supreme, their curiosity has gone too far—and it shows in every track. Suicide now seem like band struggling to find their true sonic spirit, like their indelible identity is lost in a whirlwind of mish-mashed ideas that range from one-dimensional house music to uncomfortable and self-conscious turntable cuts. But I simply cannot write off this album this easily. The aural blueprints that exist in the vinyl grooves of their music from 1977 illustrates a band so defined, so confident in themselves that they dismantled everything—stylistic trends, punk stereotypes and electronic music’s ability to rage as true rock ‘n’ roll.
Now, with 25 years of reflection and experience, they’ve gained age and lost their edge. American Supreme is merely a flickering nightlight lost in the expansive shadow their first two albums continue to cast. It mars Suicide’s once revolutionary synth-punk infrastructure and builds stories of boring beats and wandering musical ideas atop it, leaving you unfulfilled, uninspired, and jaded. American Supreme sounds dated, stale, and self-conscious. It’s just a good thing Suicide’s ‘77 self-titled album sounds like a future so fluorescently bright and bracingly daring that it fulfills the very void American Supreme vacates.
// Notes from the Road
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