he pairing of broken-sounding drum machines and menacing electronic tones has served ex-Suicide frontman Alan Vega and Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen well in their separate careers; 1998’s Endless was an inspired pairing, teasing out a connection between late 70’s No-Wave New York and 90’s Finnish techno. It’s not just the instruments, either; Suicide’s legacy of antagonistic performances leads one to think that a collaboration with a duo that once toured with Swans should produce some healthily confrontational and aggressive music.
Resurrection River, like Endless is an attempt at that very thing, with varying levels of success. Liking VVV depends on a) enjoying Vega’s growly hoopla, and b) feeling that Pan Sonic’s bleak avant-electronic attack complements his distinctly American brand of howling and moaning (everybody compares him to Elvis, after all). Even those already accustomed to his voice thanks to endless contemplations of Suicide will have to deal with Vega’s oddball-verging-on-cornball lyrical content: are we listening to a sarcastic lampooning of a nearly sixty-year-old man trying to sound dangerous and “edgy,” or are we getting the real thing? Where’s the line? Is there a line? When Vega implores us to “Step on up to the Resurrection,” is he deifying himself or taunting anyone who would? Taking the whole to-do with a grain of salt seems to be the prescription here, but the difficulty in determining what’s what is pretty entertaining.
Unfotunately, Vainio and Väisänen’s “noise terrorism” often takes a back seat to Vega’s delivery (as an element of VVV’s overall sound). The result is less dynamic than it ought to be; Vega sounds unable to muster the unhinged fury of his younger days, but he’s still able to holler loud enough that one can’t focus on what are, truthfully, his backing tracks. What made Vega’s work with Suicide so compelling had a lot to do with his delivery; the shivering coos and moans of “Cheree,” the terrifying screams of “Frankie Teardrop.” Here, he’s aiming at targets ripe for rage—his cryptic conflation of what amounts to Jesus and James Dean (with a touch of Tim Allen) on “I Got Wheels, I Got Nails,” like much of the album, is motivated by classic disgust with Western society—but something’s missing.
Pan Sonic labelmate and collaborator Jimi Tenor’s organ playing on “11:52 pm” helps summon the woozy monopunk that made Suicide so beloved, its “Ghost Rider”-on-Methadone texture pulling Vega into balance with the music. This satisfying intersection falls apart on the following track, “Job Blue”; although Vainio and Väisänen set down an mix of listless drum machine and chiming sine waves, the music’s ominous abstractions are drowned out by Vega bellowing: “Drunk on the street / Blasting everyone / Blasting everything / On the job / ON THE JOB!” It only gets more ridiculous: on “Sellin’ My Monkeys,” the Finnish pair conjure an abandoned subway tunnel laced with delicate shards of glass while Vega rants about yelling at the junkies, dealing with the flunkies and, yes, selling his monkeys; it’s like the crazy guy you always attempt to avoid is following you, shouting while you try to listen to your headphones. He’s vaguely psychotic, and yet tragically humorous, giving him a certain bizarre charm—maybe it’s the random yelps, or the dead-seriousness with which he intones, “American crack, American crack.” The straightforward pulse of “Chrome Z-Fighters 2003” complements Vega’s delivery, most resembling a Suicide B-side, but Vega’s literary contribution doesn’t go much beyond the cartoon toy commercial appeal of the title (which, again, might be the point).
Fans of Vega are going to think I just wasted several hundred words, and that’s fine; this is nearly as good a showcase of the man’s eccentricities as Suicide was. But those not necessarily intent on basking in the insane glory that is Alan Vega should know what they’re in for. Resurrection River has its transcendent moments, but the rest requires a special kind of devotion.
Reviewed by: Ethan White
Reviewed on: 2005-08-16