Here they come (again), the beautiful ones. As Suede returns with its first studio album in 11 years, PopMatters ranks the top a-sides by the influential yet seldom imitated band that kickstarted Britpop two decades ago.
For a group credited with igniting the Britpop movement, Suede has remained strangely idiosyncratic. There’s no denying that the London band’s reference points are fairly transparent (one part Ziggy Stardust, one part Smiths… ) But when the patriotic spirit of Britpop swept through Albion’s indie scene in the mid-1990s, Suede’s dark, trashy glamor and androgynous leanings were nowhere near as frequently emulated as Oasis’ laddish populism or Blur’s middle-class cheekiness. Like Pulp, there was an undercurrent of desperation and malaise in Suede’s music that put it at odds with the celebratory spirit of the times. The music of Suede was meant to soundtrack young lives with nowhere to go, for whom the spare fleeting moments of bliss are found only in sex that blurred gender boundaries and narcotic excess. If Britpop was about living for today, Suede was concerned with leaving behind a beautiful corpse.
In grossly simplified terms, sex and drugs summarize the Suede story. The band’s initial lineup included guitarist and future Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann, who at the time was in a relationship with singer Brett Anderson. Following their breakup and Frischmann’s departure (who then hooked up with Blur pin-up Damon Albarn—cue altera-rock soap opera), his songwriting partnership with guitarist Bernard Butler deepened, and Anderson’s lyrics grew more distinctive as he began to explore homosexual themes and imagery. Suede shelved its first stab at a single, “Be My God”/“Art”, so the group’s recorded career began properly with “The Drowners” single in 1992, the first in what became a line of lustrous a-sides that shone brightly in a scene having to content itself with the likes of 18 Wheeler and Kingmaker. In those singles, the music press heard talent, ambition, and moxie. They went bananas for them, and the British public soon followed.