One of the first hardcore bands to shrug off the distinction between punk and metal, Suicidal Tendencies — formed in Venice, California in 1982 as a personal soapbox for fiery singer Mike Muir (and once voted both Worst Band and Best New Band by the readers of Flipside magazine) — made its intentions to not be contained by genre or expectations known early by selling scads of its first album, produced clearly by Glen E. Friedman. Muir’s obvious politics (“Fascist Pig,” “I Shot the Devil” [aka “I Shot Reagan”], “Memories of Tomorrow”) and wily personality (“Possessed,” “Suicide’s an Alternative,” “Won’t Fall in Love Today”) make Suicidal Tendencies a classic. Half-sung, half-recited and built on repeated sudden tempo changes, “Institutionalized” is a unique, devastating centerpiece. One of the era’s quintessential expressions of teen dislocation, it converts generation gap misunderstandings into a complete communications breakdown, encapsulating all the punk sociology of such films as Repo Man and Suburbia in four minutes.
After Suicidal Tendencies sold unbelievable quantities for an independent release, Muir took some time to organize a new lineup and make a second record. Following the general hardcore drift towards metal, Muir, stalwart bassist/co-writer Louiche Mayorga and two new bandmembers straddle styles on the Motörhead-ish Join the Army, embracing ominous war-pigs power and blistering crap-guitar solos, but cutting it with sudden shifts into hyperspeed (or halfspeed for moshing), punk vocals and a continuing dedication to skate-punk culture. The sound isn’t great, but the playing and energy, plus Muir’s exceptionally strong singing, makes the LP worthy of the band’s exalted status.
Sharpening the band’s music into an articulate speedcore rocket, Muir and a new set of sidemen reached the major leagues with How Will I Laugh Tomorrow, a powerful and intelligent outpouring of alienation, self-examination and identification with the band and its attendant culture. Mike Clark (Muir’s songwriting partner) and Rocky George keep the guitar pressure up, while Muir delivers his reflective lyrics with typical authority. The first side is especially great, a breathless series of well-constructed explosions, from “Trip at the Brain” and “Pledge Your Allegiance” through the title track and “The Miracle,” a denunciation of idealism. The flip kicks off with a galloping instrumental (“Surf and Slam”) and includes the tuneful and catchy “One Too Many Times.” An uncommon example of what can happen to speedmetal when it’s approached with imagination and originality.
The 1989 Controlled by Hatred has two non-LP edits of the previous LP’s title track plus seven new songs in an unchecked metallic vein. Lacking the band’s usual precision and clarity, thick-sounding tracks like “Master of No Mercy” and the death-metal clichés of “Waking the Dead” wind up blurry and indistinct, with Muir’s vocals stubbornly battling the dense noise.
“I’d rather feel like shit than be full of shit.” Muir roars like a wounded animal on Lights…Camera…Revolution, an electric storm so loud and bracing that tracks seem to echo over the silence after they end. Over a deafening guitar frenzy (turning quiet for the beginning of “Alone” and switching to funk for the first part of “Lovely”), Muir covers his standard alienation-nonconformity-loneliness topics with typical intensity, adding vague thoughts about political action (in “Give It Revolution,” he asserts that “The greatest weapon of the fascist / Is the tolerance of the pacifist”), the atmosphere of violence (“Disco’s Out, Murder’s In”) and televangelism (“Send Me Your Money”).
Using a session drummer to complete the otherwise fixed lineup of George, Clark and bassist Robert Trujillo (following the departure of longtime hammerer R.J. Herrera), Muir shifts onto a more mainstream sizzle-rock plane — Aerosmith crossed with Danzig — for The Art of Rebellion, sharply produced by Peter Collins (Rush, Alice Cooper, Indigo Girls). Daring to sound more approachable and ordinary than ever before, Suicidal gallops and kicks as hard (but not as fast) as ever when called upon to, but otherwise entertains a full gamut of modern dynamic possibilities. Parts of “I’ll Hate You Better” could be the Spin Doctors; “Monopoly on Sorrow” amazingly finds room for acoustic guitar, cello and carefully melodic singing; with fretless bass and harmony vocals, the T.Rexy “I Wasn’t Meant to Feel This/Asleep at the Wheel” is even more restrained and intricate than that. No such messing afflicts the lyrical obsessions: Muir’s personal vision (“an emptiness so full…screaming inside myself”) remains unaffected. Typical of the album’s altered orthodoxy, “Can’t Stop” intentionally references the paranoia, suffering and dramatic narration of “Institutionalized” with shockingly winsome lyrics: reaching for a comparison to being “emotionally paralyzed, light-headed,” Muir tries “You know, kinda like when you gotta sneeze? The relief it brings?” Impressive in its ambition, disappointing in its compromise.
Culminating a decade-long grudge against the unassailable independent label that issued Suicidal Tendencies, Muir moved to replace it with Still Cyco After All These Years, a song-for-song remake that benefits from the new band’s skin-tight instrumental skill but otherwise brings nothing new or especially modernized to the (turn)table. (While at it, he covers two songs from Join the Army and adds the newly written “Don’t Give Me Your Nothin’.”) In a trade ad at the time, Muir offered this guarded explanation for the quixotic exercise: “Why did we record our first album? In the early ’80s we hated everything we heard…Suicidal Tendencies was our response to the ‘new music’ of the ’80s. Why re-record the album? Because history repeats itself.”
The singer pokes fun at stylistic slumming in the opening of Suicidal for Life: “Invocation,” a funky mush groove over which he does a radio rap, smoothly transmutes into the wildly cranking thrash of Mike Clark’s “Don’t Give a Fuck!” That sets the tone for a relentlessly raging explosion on which Muir seems to have discovered a dictionary of bad words and is having a blast trying ’em all in sentences. Don’t expect much airplay for songs like “No Bullshit,” “Fucked Up Just Right!,” “No Fuck’n Problem” and “Suicyco Muthafucka.” The restrained, malevolently gothic (“fucked up feelings kill”) “What Else Could I Do?” relieves the charged atmosphere midway, and “Love Vs. Loneliness” takes it way down at the end, but otherwise the ferocious five (with drummer Jimmy DeGrasso in the house) stay hard and down to kill on this album, reclaiming their primacy as upholders of the hardcore faith. Closing off with a recommendation to question authority, Muir turns out the lights with the not-exactly profound observation that “cool is only 3 letters away from fool.”
Joined by Suicidal bassist Trujillo and punk-funk pals (including, on The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move, Jane’s Addiction/Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins), Muir also leads Infectious Grooves. Rather than adhere to a clear-cut formula, the group moves it around from ‘core-tinged rhythmic grooves to soulful metal to funk fusion to flat-out rock on the first album, which tucks in bits of silly dialogue and other digressions — Trujillo’s acoustic slide playing on “Infectious Blues,” the ska beat and piano jazz sections of “Monster Skank” — as well. Unpredictable but not so far from Muir’s usual noise to be a major challenge for ST faithful, The Plague clears the decks of untried ideas but, other than the good-natured party lyrics, doesn’t bond them into any sort of cohesive whole.
Infectious Grooves’ second infection, Sarsippius’ Ark, digs into the band’s organic Fishbone stew with phenomenally entertaining relish. Pulled together from various sources (1989 demos with entirely different sidemen, first album outtakes, a ’92 LA concert, new sessions) and stitched up by spoken bits from a Richard Pryor-sounding fictional music biz narrator, Ark is more unified and consistent than either of the Grooves’ other discs. David Bowie’s “Fame” and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” make perfect covers for the quintet’s furious once-overs; such hot’n’funky originals as “Savor da Flavor,” “Don’t Stop, Spread the Jam!” and “Slo-Motion Slam” strike a blistering balance of motion and metal that’s easy to catch and hard to shake.
Hooking another new drummer to Ark‘s core foursome (with guitarists Dean Pleasants and Adam Siegel), Muir and Trujillo allow a bit of lyrical and musical backsliding into ST terrain on Groove Family Cyco. Apart from the central hybrid of searing guitar punk and ultra-hard funk, the album displays the band’s willingness to go the pure rock route on straightahead 4/4 tracks like “Frustrated Again” and “Do What I Tell Ya!” and parts of “Made It.” Ideal for those frustrated by the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ revisionism in the ’90s, the album pumps up the jam with a functional and fun balance of popping bass, syncopated rhythms and Marshall stacks of power chords. See “Rules Go Out the Window” for the record’s most clearly expressed statement of purpose. (Siegel, ex-Excel, subsequently put out a record as the leader of a new trio called My Head, whose bassist Dave Silva was in a pre-Pearl Jam band with Eddie Vedder. Nothing like the guitarist’s Infectious Grooves work, Endless Bummer is smart and engaging alternative rock with memorable tunes and a ’70s/’90s personality all its own.)
As if two recording careers weren’t enough, Muir — billing himself as Cyco Miko — began 1996 with a solo album. Lost My Brain! (Once Again) is, of all things, an old-fashioned punk record of mid-tempo rhythm- guitar rock (ex-Pistol Steve Jones is one of three barre-chorders on hand) that has none of speedcore’s double-bass-drum gallops, chrome production sheen or blazing riffery. When Jones cranks up a solo in “All Kinda Crazy,” his licks are strictly from the Chuck Berry textbook; Dave Kushner’s heated wah-wah exhibition in “Gonna Be Alright” is Van Halen-era rawk. Ending the album with an inclusive stump- speech song (“Cyco Miko Wants You”), Muir comes off as Mister Rogers for the disaffected generation: “If you’ve got a good heart / And always back up what you say / If you can set your own agenda / Then come over my way.” And don’t be a Don’t Be.