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Music

Alan Vega: Station

Matthew Kantor

Alan Vega, the Suicide king, still cares enough to share his missteps and triumphs with the sleeping dreamers around him.


Alan Vega

Station

Label: Mute Records
US Release Date: 2007-07-31
UK Release Date: 2007-04-23
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On Station’s “GunGodGame”, Alan Vega sounds like Jack Kerouac on the eve of drinking himself to death, both in sentiment and poetic cadence. The “humiliations” and attempts at “trying to bring back what’s not there” haunt him. But Alan Vega has never given up. His mission is to rekindle love and dreams and rail against authority’s disdain for both. 2007’s Station, filled with several successful stabs, is proof that he won’t quit until he’s gone, and even then his legacy will remain. An audacious human being, he’s felt comfortable presiding over both literal and musical riots, contributing to punk, industrial, and electronic music, as well as rebellion and literature in the process. It’s a wonder and a privilege that he’s still around.

Ironically, though, Vega’s potent living legacy can sometimes work against him. Still putting out records and performing live with Suicide partner Martin Rev, he correctly views himself as a contemporary artist. But his current output will always and immediately be compared against the early Suicide recordings. Given the immensity of a “Ghost Rider” or “Frankie Teardrop”, and that the early Suicide compositions sound as relevant as ever, Vega’s new music is perhaps rendered a thankless task. Clearly, though, Vega is not out for gratitude. As soon as the disc opens with “Freedom’s Smashed”, he shouts “I see it / Our freedom’s gone”. As plainly spoken and direct as “Ghost Rider”'s immemorial “America is killin’ its youth”, this cements Vega’s rep as the town crier and places Station squarely in modern political times. As “Freedom’s Smashed” plays on, helicopter blades in the wind, the repetition takes hold until Vega forces the listener to see what he’s talking about.

It’s apropos that the album begins with Vega pointing toward something on the horizon. Lyrically, he is focused on the sky for much of the album, looking for a savior or a better day to appear on Earth. On “Traceman”, he brings in Liz Lamere, who sounds eerily like the female voices from a Sun Ra recording. “Traceman” takes on a Christian air as Vega repeats, “It came from the sky / To die / Lookin’ for a human”. Much of Vega’s work has always been about the want for human connection, and the subsequent lack thereof, and “Traceman” follows in that tradition. In many ways, his words and music (along with Rev) have offered an aural equivalent of Hubert Selby Jr.’s prose; a slimy sense of humanity’s failure, but also a belief in its salvation. If the sky exists, there might be hope.

This belief withstanding, Vega sounds angry and desperate on this album, at his wit’s end. There’s little melody and no pop flirtation, no easy beauty or minimal rockabilly. These all characterized some of his past endeavors. As a whole, this disc is dark and repetitive and, for the most part, Vega either speaks or screams throughout it, rather than singing. His most blood curdling yells are reserved for Stationcloser “Devastated”, where he howls the title and holds it like life is draining from him. It’s a performance that cannot be faked, and it remains laudable that Vega can express true feeling in the face of plastic product.

At the same time, it’s his authenticity and willingness to throw it all out there that leads to several album missteps. “SS Eyes” comes off as sophomoric goth poetry, with its warbling refrain of “Daddy angel came / Swastika eyes” over a negligible video game soundtrack. And really, though many musical set-ups work -- the hypnotic acid house of “GunGodGame” or the bouncy drum machines of “Psychopatha” -- moments like the dated electro futurism of “13 Crosses, 16 Blazin’ Skulls” or the rote techno of “WARRIOR! FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE!” harm the album’s possibly effective cohesion.

Across this spectrum, the unifying strands of Stationare its second track, “Station, Station”, and the aforementioned finale, “Devastated.” On “Station, Station”, Vega affirms he is the dreamer’s champion. He shares his view -- “There was a time you could dream / Now it has become a crime to dream” -- while all the same encouraging everyone to just keep going. On “Devastated”, he lets loose with the decidedly uncool question, “How’s the future gonna play out / For our kids?” This is the beating heart in Alan Vega that loves people and demands a consideration of what happens when our freedom is gone and we deny our vision. Vega is a punk who once destroyed song craft as it was known, and who played in a band called Suicide. Though it might make diehard punk nihilists cringe, the efforts of Station, and what will surely be more shows and records, update the message of “suicide”. Yes, it is about killing yourself, but not as an end unto itself. It’s a means to waken up to the people around you -- and to wake up the people around you -- and help them realize their possibilities.

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