M.I.A.'s third album is slated to be released on July 13 and the first and only single from the album that I have heard so far is a track entitled "Born Free." While it is nowhere close to being one of my favorite M.I.A. songs, the track has been stuck in my head for days as the result of her sampling a song entitled "Ghost Rider" from one of the truly great, yet completely misunderstood, albums in the history of music - Suicide's self-titled masterpiece which was released in 1977.
New York City in the 1970's was on the verge of bankruptcy and was viewed by the world as the epicenter of crime and social disorder. The 1981 film Escape From New York, written in the mid-70s by its director, John Carpenter, is an apocalyptic tale in which New York City is converted into a maximum security prison. It was very symbolic of the chaotic concrete jungle that New York City was descending into and it is within this context that Suicide's confrontational, self-titled album should be heard.
Formed in 1971, Suicide consisted of vocalist Alan Vega along with Martin Rev, who created the unique Suicide sound with synthesizers and drum machines. Though they had been playing for many years, their first studio album Suicide wouldn't be released until 1977. It's not that hard to imagine, upon listening to it, the reasoning behind the reluctance to put this album out. It is the soundtrack to the hellhole that New York City was at the time. It's a stressful album. It's the schizophrenic homeless guy that you're desperately trying to avoid eye contact with. It's that gut feeling that you may not make it home once you get off at your bus stop. Suicide is not for the faint of heart.
To this day, when I put that record on, it gets an immediate reaction(usually negative) from people who are otherwise unfamiliar with the band which, I imagine, is exactly what Vega and Rev were shooting for. This band genuinely frightened or angered people when they took to the stage. "We started getting booed as soon as we came onstage. Just from the way we looked they started giving us hell already," recalled Vega who would often brandish a six-foot motorcycle chain while on stage. New York City was a very uncomfortable place at that time and Suicide reflected Vega and Rev's dystopian view.
The other reaction from those hearing Suicide for the first time is the utter disbelief at the time period in which this record was made. They were playing these songs nearly forty years ago and yet it sounds incredibly modern.
Regardless of M.I.A.'s use of this song, Suicide will never be mainstream, but Suicide was never meant to be mainstream. Originality is often the bane of mainstream acceptance and, luckily, there are a handful of artists like Suicide who refuse to play by the rules.