Alan Vega is dead, and that means there will never be another Suicide album. But it also means there will never be another Alan Vega album, and the man's solo career has come to mean as much to me as his partnership with Martin Rev did.
In truth his "solo" work simply meant anything he did outside of his partnership with Rev; since 1990 or so anything sporting his name only has been him and his wife Liz Lamere. She'd provide a herky-jerk wall of computer-generated throb and rasp, and he'd provide that snarling, hollering, whooping, crooning voice, the "Iggy-cum-Elvis psychobilly attack", as someone else once put it.
The earlier Vega/Lamere records like Deuce Avenue hewed towards a technologically updated version of the sound Vega and Rev put out on the second Suicide disc: tough, but melodic. Over time the sound became more angular, jittery, abrasive — yes, abrasive even by Suicide's standards. By 2007's Station, Lamere was a supporting figure and Vega was twisting the knobs himself. The "music" had become a grating, stop-and-start throb, like the leakage coming through the doors of the club across the street. You could sink into it, let it wrap itself around you like so much cigarette smoke and dying sunlight. It was the sound of cracked pavement and filthy windowpanes and the Formica peeling from the edges of dive bars, of guys sporting wounds as big as lifetimes, leaning against cars and sobbing out to whatever Jesus would design to redeem them. It was a soundtrack to something some of us had no choice but to live in and live through.
IT followed Station by a good ten years, but the fact that so little had changed was heartening. Vega had been dealing with health problems and rediscovering the visual arts (he'd originally wanted to be a sculptor), but he composed IT shortly before his death in July 2016, and the album was released to the public precisely a year later. There was no CD release — vinyl, MP3 downloads, and streaming only — and some part of me does lament not having a lossless digital version in some form. But everything it means to be comes through, even in a Spotify stream.
Most of what's on IT, music and themes alike, is a direct extension of the snarling atmosphere of Station. If you liked one, you'll like the other. If you haven't heard Station, it's not as if you need that one to warm you up, given how this phase of Vega's career was the kind of thing you either took or left as-is. Few of the tracks have any progression to them. They rarely establish a melody; they sometimes barely even establish a rhythm. They're better thought of as continuities or environments. Sometimes they approach melody and conventional songwriting ("Prayer", "Prophecy"), sometimes they're just a monotonous grind ("Screaming Jesus"), and sometimes they drip mechanical dread and world-eating menace (the title cut).
I have always admired the way Vega can set up a mood and then have it turn on a dime with nothing more than a word. He did it in "Che", he did it in Misery Train ("I buried my brother today" gives me chills as deep as those that came with the death scream in "Frankie Teardrop"), and he does it here more than once. Most strikingly he does it in the album closer, "Prophecy", where he goes from a Zenlike embrace of all-in-all ("the universe, it's yours for free") to spit lobbed in the eye of anyone who'd stand in the way of him enacting said embrace ("So fuck you, killers / Fuck you / I stand").
On the whole, though, I never got the impression much of what Vega was singing about mattered in the particular. It's not the details, but the delivery. As Henry Rollins once said about Blixa Bargeld, the fact that he couldn't understand what the guy was shouting didn't matter; it was the urgency of the delivery that mattered to him, like a dog's bark. Vega was, to the last, a dog that wouldn't stop snarling his own peculiar snarl.
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