Suburban Lawns – Suburban Lawns (2015)

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It took 34 long years but there’s finally a reissue of the Suburban Lawns’ self-titled 1981 debut and their follow-up 1983 EP Baby. Originally issued on vinyl in America on I.R.S. Records, both records are returning on CD for the very first time. Suburban Lawns is also available in your choice of lawn-sprinkler green or flying-saucer colored vinyl LPs from the new UK label Futurismo.

Major kudos to the label for having the guts to reissue this Long Beach, California band — unlike other indie or major labels that never reissued the album and EP, despite many fans clamoring for it. Futurismo have done a bang-up job, with a laminated digipak CD that now depicts the much cooler original back-cover band photo as the new front cover, and not the hideous original abstract front LP cover. Also included is a lovely large double-sided foldout color poster with complete lyrics, musician credits, and many rare cool photos of the band.

The music itself has never sounded better than on this newly remastered release. Key ingredients to the Suburban Lawns’ new wave sound were excitement, subversion, a sense of humor and of the odd — all of which is definitely in evidence here. This classic album is on full throttle from the get-go and doesn’t let up.

There was no vocalist like Su Tissue, both in terms of her singing and her unusual stage presence. The only comparison I could make to her vocally would be either Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s or perhaps Yoko Ono’s sometimes on-key vocal gymnastics — and I mean that in the best sense of that description. Devo, Talking Heads, and the B-52’s were probably the band’s biggest influences. You can hear flashes of them if you listen closely. The quite infectious and manically driven “Anything” is a pretty good example of how those particular three bands’ influence informs the pace and energy of this album.

The insanely catchy and rocking “Janitor,” one of their great original pre-LP singles, is also included on this reissue, as it was on the original LP. (You gotta love the line in the chorus, “Oh my genitals; I’m a janitor”!) The frenetically paced “Computer Date,” as sung by guitarist Frankie Enu, is his tale of computerized love matchmaking which might’ve prefigured on-line dating web sites by a decade and a half. “Hug You” has an almost jazz-disco fusion flavor in its dizzying approach to the call-and-response lead vocals from Su and bassist Vex Billingsgate.

“Unable,” with its stop/start herky-jerky rhythms, lives on in your head long after Su Tissue’s tale of unrequited love has finished. If there was ever an anti-drug abuse song that clearly demonstrates the dopey effects of pills, it would have to be Vex Billingate’s funny-but-true “Not Allowed.” The sophisticated flowing “Protection” could’ve easily have been a fab outtake from the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music album.

“Baby,” the EP’s title track, sounded like a big leap forward in direction with its use of Talking Heads-like polyrhythms propelled by drummer Chuck Roast, suggesting where the band might’ve gone musically. It’s too bad that Suburban Lawns didn’t continue onward in this avant-pop new wave style, instead of breaking up later on in 1983 not too long after the EP was released. The wonderful, galloping “Flavor Crystals,” also from the EP, was probably the Suburban Lawns’ best shot then at a commercial Top-40 hit — if they had been only given a real chance on radio.

I highly recommend this brand new Suburban Lawns reissue to anyone who’s a fan of the new wave era, and of vital music in general.

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott has written for Shindig, Twist and Shake, Garage & Beat and Ugly Things. A big fan of all things rock and roll - especially the British Invasion, garage rock, psychedelic, new wave, folk rock, surf and power pop - he was a consultant on Sundazed Music's reissue of 'The Best of Butch Engle & The Styx: No Matter What You Say' in 2000, and has also provided liner notes for Italy's Misty Lane Records. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Steve Elliott
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