The Suicide Machines – The Suicide Machines

3 out of 5

Label: Hollywood Records

Produced by: Julian Raymond

Right – this album. I can’t remember where exactly I was in my Suicide Machines fandom at the point it came out, but I remember stocking it on the shelves in the Sam Goody where I worked and chuckling at the cover – a black and white photo of the band a clear riff on 50s / 60s era bubblegum pop groups, including “…Plus 10 Other Great Hits!” type copy – and then getting around to listening to a copy and… wondering what the hell. Like, okay, maybe the fact that the opening track is a straight forward pop tune is part of its humorous misdirection – that it’s a love song that turns out to be about a dog – but what to make of the five or six pop songs that followed? At a stretch, yes, you can sense some SM chord progressions, and there’s some interesting off beats employed here and there, but if this wasn’t listed under the band’s name, I doubt anyone would associate it with the classic ska/punk of Destruction By Definition, or the hardcore punk of Battle Hymns.

The gut reaction to a move like this would be to call it selling out, but the Machines were already on Hollywood Records at this point, and besides – whatever else was going on in music at that point was not this, so if it was a sell out – to whom? So I was just baffled by the disc. I passed on it, and the next release as well.

When the group’s SideOneDummy releases started getting good press, I checked back in, and… yes. While I think the flair of those first two discs was in the rearview, the SOD stuff had undeniable fire behind it, so I was back on board. And then eventually, I’d backtrack to what I’d passed on.

And I still can’t quite make this album work, at least not front to back. From afar, you can say the jump from Destruction to Battle was somewhat extreme, and so maybe this was just another jump; it just happened to be to pop. Which is fair, but it’s harder to parse, because the aping of happy-go-lucky singalongs leads to lyrics which, like the opener, can be cute, but aren’t particularly more than that, and when the group tries to map some of their social rants to the style… it’s a passionless mismatch. The same goes for the playing: Julian Raymond’s crisp, sharp production made the group’s punk stuff and Royce’s howls sharp; but Raymond’s a mega-producer, and he’s too good at making the bright and shiny super bright and shiny, i.e. out goes the music’s energy. That said, if you can brainwash yourself of expectations, this is all passable, inoffensive pop.

…For half the album. This is also why this disc is hard to really make my mind up on: wiki now cites that the group purposefully wanted to make something like The Beatles music they’d been getting into at the time (or some of the group did), but that doesn’t prevent them from sliding back into more classic styles in the disc’s back half. While we still get some full orchestration on a couple tracks, and, er, rap rock – yup – these affectations are shuttled through lyrics and chord progressions that just make more sense and sound more at home. And the non-orchestrated (non-rap rock – there’s only one of these, and it’s so overtly hostile that I admittedly enjoy it) tracks could, sincerely, be outtakes from either of their first two discs. So whenever I go in for a full listen of this album, assuming I get past the first half, the second half tricks me into wanting to reevaluate the thing as one of their best discs, full of risk-taking flourishes to their style that don’t abandon their core sound.

But then, y’know, it starts playing the first song again.

As a standalone album, I’m not sure I can recommend it, although I imagine if this was anyone’s first purchase based on a single, it’s probably pretty fun. And as mentioned, it’s not like the fluffy stuff ain’t enjoyable, it’s just not memorable. As a Suicide Machines album… I’m still perplexed by it. If you told me you never owned it, or never listened to it, I wouldn’t try to tell you that it has some worthwhile tracks. By the same token, we can put it at the bottom of our rankings, then commiserate over its what-ifs, and why-the-hecks.