Here comes the darkness.
Look… to my mind, even with the unforgiving sonics and Alan Vega’s confrontational, auto-destructive style as frontman, Suicide got a bum rap as being nihilists. How could they be? Have you ever heard “I Surrender,” “Subway Comedian” or most crucially, “Dream Baby Dream” — most recently covered by Bruce Springsteen as a searing, mantra-like hymnal — those are pure expressions of hope and joy amidst the decay of civilization. Dreams. So one of the things that hit me first about Station was Vega deadpanning, “Now it has become a crime to dream” on “Station Station.” That’s bad news. Real bad news. If Alan Vega loses hope….
Yes, this is bleak. For Station Vega is reunited by longtime musical collaborator Liz Lamere and he takes the lead role in crafting the sonics for this album, which makes the whole affair possibly his most seamless solo creation yet. Vega crafts dense, metallic pyramids and piles and pits of white noise, post-apocalyptic electro-funk, industrial detritus and techno concrete to frame vengeful and negative parables of life in a dystopian future that’s finally arrived on our doorstep. No more forty years, one-hundred years. Now.
The sonics (again, mostly Vega’s own) are harsher and denser than on past endeavors — less rock music than audio sculptures — brute collages and cut-n-paste of driving percussion, white noise, bass and synth drones, all piled up, scattered and then deconstructed/reconstructed. There is no respite to be found in these mechanical nightmares; less to be found in his vocals and lyrics. Doomy pronouncements, sermonizing, recitations of cut-up newspaper headlines, slogans, sound bytes, stream of consciousness despair. Like “freedom’s runnin’ scared” on “Freedom’s Smashed,” or how the continual repetition of the title in “Gun God Game” starts to sound like Guns-God-Gays, the centerpiece of cynical political strategizing to distract “the heartland,” or even the exhortations for “moms and dads” to “take your kids to deadland.” There are more personal lines like “Sometimes it’s better to separate” on “Why Couldn’t It Be You” or a pained cry of “How’s the future gonna play out for our kids” in “Devastated.”
If I had to sum up Station, I’d liken it to late-night pirate broadcasts from a talk-radio station that never existed, with Vega as your street-prophet/beat-poet/DJ smoking like a fiend and buzzing off the fumes. This station will not go off the air, the revolution was not televised but the decline and fall sure as fuck will be broadcast. Alan’s vocals, as well, are far more different and experimental than in the past (and that shit was left field to begin with) he sounds like a newsreader, a rapper, Orson Welles in War of the Worlds (like in the alien parable “Traceman”), a street hoodlum, Jarboe or Diamanda Galas, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Freed — the vocals are almost another instrument, they’re fit into the soundsculputres so perfectly. Some of Vega’s solo albums saw almost guesting on his own work, not so with Station, it’s painstakingly constructed and completely… him. Many different voices, all urgent.
“Station” begins hymn-like with a single, solitary organ note and Vega’s heavily treated, distant vocals about dream crimes, before the industrial drums kick in and plunge it into a rougher, more brutal environ. “Deadland” is the sequel to American Supreme’s “Dachau, Disney, Disco,” with a gothic, hip-hop flavor to the instrumental tracks and a guest turn from Vega’s son, sounding scared shitless as Vega goes all unhinged. “Crime Street Cree” is almost rave-like in its pacing — but way more disturbing and primal — all the good vibes are long gone, throats slit. And check out his scream about five minutes in — of fuck yes, leading into a wide-eyed pronouncement — “the Archangel’s down,” delivered with gritty anger. Same with the blunt-head-trauma drum/bass bash of “Gun God Game” with a weary Vega accepting the “takedowns the breakdowns the humiliations.” Late album entrant “13 Crosses, 16 Blazin Skulls” is all metallic sharp edges and burning electronics, a dense yellow cloud of smoke and toxins — glitch fury with a strident Vega doomily intoning about ghosts and avenging angels. “”SS Eyes” steals an awesome line from Primal Scream’s “Swastika Eyes” (which was ironically from an album that filched a lot from Suicide) and takes it back home where it belongs, repeated over and over, couched in a bed of synthetic demon funk and autobahn noise. “Why Couldn’t It Be You” returns to the bruised romanticism of some of Suicide’s most vulnerable moments like “Cheree;” trip-hop drums and eerie, one-finger minor chord synths with Vega all echoy and regretful like the spoken parts on Ronettes or Everly Bros. records, just sadder; barely singing, more speaking, mumbling in 3am regret. The blood-throated screams of “Dead on” and “Destruction” echo throughout the cold, tech-step looping of “Devastated,” ending with an almost disco flourish as Vega burns himself out, his voice collapsing into a defeated moan. And then…. silence.
Restless. Relentlessly modern.
Pretty much everything Alan Vega predicted alongside Martin Rev in Suicide has come to pass, so I think you’d better pay extra close attention to Station. The man’s a fucking prophet, after all.
Mute Records: www.mute.com