Tuesday, July 6, 2010

JUly 6: Suicidal Tendencies, "Institutionalized"

Artist: Suicidal Tendencies
Song: "Institutionalized"
Album: Suicidal Tendencies
Year: 1983

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Anger and frustration, regardless of the cause, have long been the inspiration behind songs from a wide range of genres.  From anger at power structures that fueled much of the late 1960s folk scene to the alienation that was behind a new style of hip-hop in the early 1990's, when artists find themselves painted into a corner, this is often when their finest work comes into being.  Then of course, there is entire genre which, at its core, draws all its power and inspiration from the injustices and unfairness experienced in the world.  From the early days of Minor Threat, the "hardcore" sound has always been about an unrestrained, unrelenting musical assault that became a lifeline of sorts for countless disenfranchised youth and it remains one of the few genres that has changed little over the decades.  While there have been an incalculable number of bands who have attempted the "hardcore sound," most fail and come off as little more than "kids yelling" over noise.  However, those few bands that have managed to master the sound stand as giants of music, and few groups brought the hardcore sound as perfectly or as consistently as the unforgettable Suicidal Tendencies.  One can easily make the case that their finest work was on their 1983 debut, as their unabashed, crushing sound was far beyond that of the early hardcore bands, laying the blueprint for a massive number of bands that followed.  Standing as a testament to their greatness, nearly thirty years after it was first released, there are few songs that can compare to the overall impact of Suicidal Tendencies iconic song, "Institutionalized."

The moment the song begins, it instantly lays out the circling, unsettling mood with the almost hypnotic hook that lasts runs throughout the entire song.  Led by the winding, repeating guitar riff from Grant Estes, the band is able to build a mood that is absolutely uncanny in terms of tension and pummeling power.  The bass of Louiche Mayorga is rather significant as there is a deep, almost funky groove on "Institutionalized" that is not really found anywhere else in the bands' work before they brought Robert Trujillo on board.  Regardless, Mayorga's playing on this track is nothing short of fantastic, and the way he and drummer Amery Smith create the strict, looming rhythm is the key to the songs' almost intimidating sound.  Truth be told, it is songs like "Institutionalized" that were able to show up and coming hardcore bands that there was much to be said for the idea of strong musical structure, and this song proved that the genre was far beyond just "musical chaos."  The way in which the band is able to keep building the nervous energy on each verse before exploding into the chorus sections is nothing short of stunning, and it became the formula for countless bands that followed.  Understandably, the song was heavily protested by parents across the U.S. (as was the album itself), and yet even with this factor, and the single never hitting the charts, "Institutionalized" gained a modest amount of radio air-play, and it remains one of the most important and influential songs in the history of the hardcore genre.

Working in perfect harmony with the agitating music created by his band, it was also on "Institutionalized" that Mike Muir introduced himself to the world.  Only needing to speak and scream, there are few performers of any genre that have delivered a vocal performance with the power and honesty that one finds on "Institutionalized."  The song itself is nothing short of a rant, but it is the way in which Muir seems to slowly become unhinged that not only gives him great credibility for his candor, but makes the song absolutely mesmerizing.  In many ways, Muir defines the "everyman" persona, as his voice and the way he speaks are quite "normal," and this was surely one of the key factors in the band gaining such a dedicated following.  Taking this idea of being easy to relate to and connect with, it is the words and theme of "Institutionalized" that spoke to so many, and one would be hard pressed to find a more clear and direct song of youth angst.  Though perhaps not the most poetic writer the world has known, it is simple ideas like, "...sometimes I try to do things but it just doesn't work out the way I want it to, and I get real frustrated..." that made legions of youth flock to the work of Suicidal Tendencies, as many felt as if they could easily relate to the words.  The song takes on a handful of altercations between a kid and his parents, showing how much disconnect there is between the two, and in the end, it is Muir who finally snaps, spitting the hypocrisies of the adults back in their face in grand fashion.

Though many bands have made their careers out of little more than chaotic music and screaming vocals, there are few that would exist had it not been for the pioneering work of Suicidal Tendencies.  Making a conscious effort to create firm, tension-filled musical arrangements that surely whipped countless audiences into borderline riots, it was Suicidal Tendencies that also proved that there was far more to the genre than "just screaming and noise."  On their first single, "Institutionalized," the band creates a tension and release cycle that remains largely unmatched to this day, and the wild guitar that jumps in and out of the song only helps to heighten this amazing mood.  With the rhythm section of Mayorga and Smith executing brilliantly in both distinct tempos, one simply cannot deny the high level of musicianship shown throughout the song.  It is these musical aspects that made it impossible to claim that the band were sub-standard musically, and likely the key reason why both the band and their debut record remain so highly revered all these years later.  Without question, it is their first single, "Institutionalized" that defines the band, and one would be hard pressed to find a more fitting example of the term "teen angst" or a better showing of everything it means to be a hardcore band.  From the unnerving musical progressions to the explosive choruses to the straightforward, unrestrained vocal rant of Mike Muir, there has simply never been another song with the power and lasting impact that one finds in Suicidal Tendencies stunning 1983 single, "Institutionalized."

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