Suede Deluxe Reissue

Suede… Reintroducing the Band

Suede fought the law and Suede won. The man in the street now knew who Suede were. Who we were. And he hated us with a passion.

Suede (Deluxe Reissue)
27 June 2011

En-ger-land, 1993. One nation shivering beneath the slate-grey Victorian shadow of Conservative rule for a 14th year and now led by the dullest, limpest Prime Minister in history, John Major. A time with no heroes, no Internet, no iPods, and where most UK homes only had four TV channels. O the poverty of dreams! This wasn’t the Age of Aquarius, but the Age of beige blandness and Kevin “Nice Slacks” Costner. Bryan “Not Ryan” Adams had recently held Number 1 hostage for 16 bloody weeks — several lifetimes in pop — with his Robin Hood gushfest and Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack was fulfilling its malevolent masterplan to brainwash an eventual 44 million zombified punters. If it wasn’t Costner-courting criminality, it was toytown techno (“Ebeneezer Goode”) or the waiting room slow death of Wet Wet Wet and Charles & Eddie.

For the youthful musical outlaws, the weeklies were still our Bible — NME and Melody Maker. Every week they’d be devoured and raided in search of a new savior. Yes, there was a resistance — the incendiary Manic Street Preachers, those merry pranksters dubbed the KLF, the melon-twisting Primal Scream — but most of the real big hitters were American. England’s bedroom anarchists were fed up with waiting for the second Stone Roses album to save us. We’d waited long enough. We wanted a riot of our own. Enter stage left, Suede

16th February 1993. The annual BRIT music awards at Alexandra Palace. The Suits gathered en masse to toast ‘n’ gloat and squeeze another platinum disc out of their latest batch of middle-aged MOR mannequins. Calling Ms. Annie Lennox, curtain call for your annual award! Simply Red? Here have two! Best British Newcomer? Why only that colossus of talent Tasmin Archer (who?). How simply enchanting! Pass the Moët please, Marcel. For us rock’n’roll orphans holed up in our wintry slums watching on telefizzle, there was only one reason to endure this morbid parade of smug, predictable horror. SUEDE! For some inexplicable reason, and in a momentary spike in taste, someone had booked Suede to perform their new single a week before release. Yes, the actual Suede, led by the dynamic duo of “glamly androgynous Dickensian whippet” Brett Anderson and “Danger! High Voltage!” whirlwind guitarist Bernard Butler.

Having been tipped off in 1992 thanks to the infamous “Best New Band in Britain” Melody Maker cover, a generation of freaks, misfits, and curious indie pups were perched on the end of their chaises longues in anticipation. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a triumph, one of the great moments in pop TV. Watching a skinny man (we think) in a tiny blouse flagellate himself with a microphone whilst howling “What does it take to turn you ONNNN??” may not seem revolutionary now, but in 1993 it was everything. The way the band strode off. The confused dismay on the faces of the execs with their half-cut secretaries. Suede fought the law and Suede won. The man in the street now knew who Suede were. Who we were. And he hated us with a passion. Stick ’em up, Muthafuckers, this is a hold-up and we’ve come for what’s ours! A fortnight later “Animal Nitrate” — an ode to sleazy highs n’ lows — would be Top 10 and the band would be teetering on the verge of its first album hitting Number 1 and becoming the fastest-selling début in years.

The self-titled Suede still holds up impressively well. It’s perfectly split 50/50 between punky, glitter stomp tantrum pop like “Metal Mickey”, “Animal Lover”, and “The Drowners”, and the mournful, kitchen sink melodramas of “Breakdown”, “Sleeping Pills”, and the flickering, ghostly “The Next Life”. Anderson’s lyrics were simply unlike anything else at the time. They were inspired undoubtedly by Morrissey, but with such feverish empathy and odd, vivid detail — “Angel, give me your sleeping pills / You don’t need them / Give me the time they kill.” The touching aftermath of a suicide on “She’s Not Dead” is as powerful and tragically haunting as Carver, whilst “The Drowners” is as irreverent and sharply suggestive as prime Orton.

Ten passionate, bleak, sometimes ridiculous tales of souls who were lost, loveless, disenfranchised, moonage daydreamers, the simply f*cked up, all together and alone dreaming of escape. Suicidal housewives, junkies, wayward teenagers, circus freaks, Suede gave them a voice. They made the gutter a better place to lie whilst you waited for the stars to fall into reach. They offered something more like unification than grungy disintegration. If you had snake hips, a floppy fringe, a wardrobe of black, and could translate Camus into a pout, you were in.

The sense of solidarity with their audience was built from day one, and those early Suede gigs were organized riots. The most violent, intense, passionate concerts I’d ever witnessed. Butler wrestled with his guitar like a Matador teasing a bull, whilst Anderson would offer himself as a sacrifice to the rabid crowd who gladly tore the shirt from his back like starved piranhas. Just like the grand finale of Susskind’s Perfume — two thousand claws sprung to devour the one. Like Pied Piper Paupers, Suede marched into town and a thousand freaks would appear from under the floorboards and tear down the night. As strong as Suede sounds today though, and like the Smiths’ début, it can never quite truly reflect the white-hot fire that surrounded the band in its infancy. It’s also bizarre how fiery fluff like “Moving” made the cut ahead of the incandescent flipsides “To the Birds” and “My Insatiable One”. In retrospect, such insanity only adds to the charm, and besides, Suede fans had long discovered the b-sides were where the loot was hidden anyway.

“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” warned Blade Runner’s chief replicant Roy Batty shortly before crushing Daddy’s skull with his bare hands. And so it remains. In the summer of 1994, 95 percent of the way through recording the group’s second record Dog Man Star, the key musical force behind Suede left the band. Maybe Butler sensed the light that day was at its very brightest. It’s hard to argue against it, DMS is one of the most imaginative guitar records of the decade, and far and away Suede’s greatest achievement. Butler’s playing is unpredictable, threatening, and hypnotizing, whilst Anderson’s lyrics are given new depth and pathos, by turns harrowing, heroic then heartbreaking. It’s the debut’s budget bedsit ballads blown onto glorious widescreen; epic in scope and full of intense, wildly operatic grandeur, and inspired experimentation.

Even following a début riddled with suicide, abusive relationships, and drugs, DMS is one step beyond. This was no cash-in on their newfound success. The Orwell-inspired lead single “We Are the Pigs” pretty much killed their chart potential overnight. Add to this the brooding n’ trippy ghost of James Dean’s Little Bastard roaring through “Daddy’s Speeding”, or the spiraling nine-minute Greek tragedy “The Asphalt World”, and this was a record never destined for Saturday afternoon in Woolworths. Contrary buggers they were, in the darkness lay bright fireworks of beauty, serenity, and romance like “The Wild Ones”, which Sinatra could’ve sung at the Sands: “As I open the blinds in my mind / I’m believing that you could stay.” Elsewhere, the ludicrously ambitious but awe-inspiring, tear-soaked, string-laden finale “Still Life” was the equivalent of Sid gunning down the toffs at the end of “My Way”. Don’t just bring down the curtain, bring down the whole fucking theatre. After this, whatever happened next seemed almost irrelevant…

The Post Bernard Butler Era

Faced with Butler’s exit and the circling of vultures waiting to pick the flesh from their bones, the remaining trio did what any sensible newly-knighted heroes would do and hired a 17-year-old to replace him. And so, once he’d asked his Mum’s permission, Richard Oakes became Suede’s new guitarist. All aboard for rock’n’roll oblivion then!

No one expected Suede to recover from Butler’s departure. The press mocked both their schoolboy saviour and Anderson’s increasingly familiar lyrical lexicon of “nuclear skies”, “pigs”, and “council estates”. Oh, how they laughed when 1996’s third album Coming Up not only outsold its predecessors, but had five — count ’em five — UK Top 10 hits. It’s a distinctly more commercial sound, the giant rainbow after DMS’s tempestuous storms. Like the Manics’ own ’96 album Everything Must Go, it sounds like a band relieved to have survived the rain. There’s a definite air of optimism, bruised euphoria, a defiant spirit unwilling to stay down. It was written with the intent that any of its tracks could be a potential single, a jukebox duke, and in that respect it’s a great success. Newly strengthened by fifth element Neil “Molly” Codling, the “You’re on OUR Manor” gang mentality was back in black.

From the sparky goldrush opener “Trash”, to the snotty cheek of “Lazy” and the cocksure swagger of “The Beautiful Ones”, it’s a real call to arms, with a “Let’s storm the palace” roar. Many grumbled at the time — and still do — that Suede had traded deep art for shallow pop to survive (“Film star / Propping up the bar / Driving in a car”), but dig deeper and the intellect and soul are all still there. “To the Sea” is a gorgeous, “Thunder Road”-esque piano-led middle finger to inherited curses (“Into the sea we’ll bleed”), whilst the lush, sunny “The Chemistry Between Us” is Bowie’s “Kooks” rewritten for the ravers (“We are young and not tired of it”). Its infectious charm is only further enhanced by flashes of genuine warmth and humour, like the lines, “Uncle Teds in their legendary vests / Helping out around the disabled.”

The goodship Suede seemed unsinkable post-Coming Up but the holes began to appear with 1998’s Head Music. The band later revealed it was recorded amid health problems, sacks of smack n’ crack, rivers of booze, and, generally, speedballs of confusion. It followed the suggestion that art is “not finished just abandoned”. Listening to oodles of Prince, Massive Attack, and Tricky, and trying desperately to slip both into their own skins and the by now wheezin’ n’ bloated behemoth that was Britpop, Head Music was a bold stride into new territory, clankin’, choppy robotic funk produced by Steve Osborne (Placebo, Happy Mondays). The four singles still sound luminous — the muscular, whip-cracking Pistols’ snarl of “Electricity” and “Can’t Get Enough” and the Duran-ish and massively popular “She’s in Fashion” and “Everything Will Flow”, but the rest is an admirable, though awkward, mess.

There’s ideas aplenty, but the quality control dial flies so up and down it snaps off. It’s a detached, cold, and overly long experience which ultimately fails to convince as a cohesive album as its predecessors had. It also contains the unthinkable — boring Suede songs (“Asbestos”, “Hi-Fi”). Even the fans cringed at lines like “She live in a house / She stupid as a mouse.” Tongue in cheek, clearly, but this is the man who wrote “To the Birds”, for God’s sake. Having said that, I’m one of only two people who secretly enjoys the batshit crazy “Elephant Man”. The other being Neil Codling, who wrote it. Elsewhere, “He’s Gone” bravely tries to contact the spirits of those early b-sides, whist the fleeting “Space Oddity”-esque “Union Jack” spits some parting vitriol, though for many the spell had been broken. Head Music flew to Number 1 on the back of Coming Up‘s meteoric success, but Suede left the twentieth century on stormy waters.

The world had indeed turned by the time of 2002’s A New Morning. Unforgivable artwork aside, it’s a warm embrace of a record compared to its glacial predecessor. Newly inspired by sobriety, Lou Reed, and Bob Dylan, it’s Suede’s (gulp) “pastoral” record. Considered by its own makers as “A Suede record too far”, it actually stands far taller than Head Music. Much of the critical malice directed towards this record was aimed at the lead single, the cheery, sincerely optimistic “Positivity”. Combined with the sight of a tanned n’ healthy, freshly blond Anderson in the video, fans kicked off their nappies in disgust and refused to have anything to do with it or its Mothership. It was akin to seeing Kurt Cobain smiling on the cover of Men’s Health, flexing his dukes with a rippling six-pack beneath the headline “Train Like Cobain!” “Judas!” they cried.

Another difficult birth production-wise, it’s clear now to see how Anderson was torn between sticking to the classic, glam Suede sound with diminishing returns (“Streetlife”) or making more personal, introspective music as he would on his subsequent solo records. By far the most rewarding tracks are these reflective, folky ones. The sweeping, intricate “Lonely Girls” (which echoes Marianne Faithful’s “As Tears Go By”), the Beatles’ hippy shake of “Lost in TV”, and the hazy, Nick Drake-like dewdrop dawn that is “Morning” are all highlights. The swaying, anthemic “When the Rain Falls” closes the album proper with a sigh — “And I watch it all fall so hard.” Alas, this, to the man on the street at least, wasn’t “The Suede Sound”. But, as Sid Vicious so memorably mused, “I’ve met the man on the street and he was a c*nt.” So after four best-selling albums, A New Morning skipped, flower in its hair, to the dizzy heights of Number 24 and the dream was effectively oh-vah.

Suede fell on their sword following a stock-taking greatest hits in 2004. They may not have completely kicked the world’s arse or “Spanked America like a petulant child”, but at least they gave the music a bloody good thrashing with a microphone. Today, the rebirth of British guitar pop which Suede helped resuscitate that night in Alexandra Palace is now generally remembered for the multi-million-selling Blur and Oasis. But the way Suede bowed out stuck not just in the craw of its fans, but clearly within the band members themselves. There was unfinished business.

In 2010, they reformed (sans Butler), initially for a one-off teenage cancer benefit, but following a rapturous response, they’ve kept their gumshields in for an extended resurrection, including stellar appearances at Coachella and the 20,000-capacity London O2 arena. These five, sparkling, lovingly assembled — and charitably cheap — reissues will hopefully help preserve some of the best pop music of the last 20 years and introduce a “New Generation” (sorry) to one of the last, and lost, great British guitar bands. In the ’90s, many were bigger, but few were better than Suede at their best.

RATING 9 / 10