Suicide: A Way of Life, Why Be Blue

These reissues, from 1988 and 1992 respectively, help to round out the picture of Suicide that was, until now, mostly derived from their eponymous 1978 debut and 2002’s hip-hop influenced American Supreme. Each double set contains a studio CD and a roughly contemporary live album. Marks are docked for the desultory nature of the packaging, with its total absence of the sleeve notes that should be a part of every archival release of this kind.

A Way of Life, from 1988, is the more interesting of the two. Martin Rev issues dark, undulant synth patterns and basic, pummelling drum machine rhythms, over which Alan Vega snarls, whoops, hollers and even occasionally sings. Suicide’s pursuit of this minimalist urban blues is dogged and relentless. Vega comes on like a grim, blasted Elvis on “Juke Box Baby 96,” his grunts and cries starkly animating Rev’s caustic synth work. “Rain of Ruin” is even harsher, with Vega at his most urgent and biting over Rev’s spitting electric currents. Relief comes only on the affecting ballad “Surrender.” The song, with its lilting female vocals and gentle mood of syncopated innocence, initially comes as a surprise, but makes sense in the context of Suicide’s twisted, visceral take on 50s pop.

There is nothing here, however, to match the overwhelming sense of threat that permeates the band’s debut. Ric Ocasek’s production smoothes out the jagged edges of Rev’s synths, which often sound flat and compromised as a result. It’s a criticism that applies even more to 1992’s Why Be Blue, a farrago of mostly weedy and inconsequential songs. The album begins with the confused, hectic stomp of the title track, and continues with a succession of ho-hum synth drills and faux-swaggering vocal workouts. A song like “Pump It” retains understated air of menace through Vega’s quietly undemonstrative vocal, but for the most part Why Be Blue suffers from a surfeit of ennui and routine.

The live recordings appended to each release have a rough, unvarnished appeal that thankfully undermines the polished sheen of the studio albums. “Dominic Christ” is livid and claustrophobic, while the rapturously received “Cheree” highlights the duo’s warped, yet strangely touching way with a tender love song. There is none of the confrontational aggression of the legendary “23 Minutes Over Brussels” recording, but plenty of the pose-striking and immersive electronic energy for which Suicide are known and, rightly, celebrated.

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