The Guardian – Suede: 10 of the best

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Suede: 10 of the best

We remember when it was all council blocks and drug-addled crones having bad sex around here … to mark 20 years since Dog Man Star, here are 10 classics from Suede. Ben Hewitt Wednesday 22 October 2014

Animal Nitrate

  • “Some things are more important than ability,” cawed Brett Anderson in 1989, when he placed an advert in NME’s back pages requesting a lead guitarist to join his band Suede. And so an early mantra was born: a desire to scandalise the dull and dreary, a conviction that kicking against the pricks was worthier than swimming with the tide, a belief that mincing and sashaying like androgynous sex-freaks were the noblest pursuits for a rock’n’roll band. Look, now, at the music papers from the early 90s to see how hideously – and gloriously – out of step Suede were with their early 90s contemporaries. Too smart and sexy for grunge’s slacker misanthropy; too tacky and trashy to fit in with London indie darlings Blur; a band who stood out like a smacked arse among their po-faced peers. Some things, then, are far more important than ability. But ability was still important to Suede. How else, after all, to describe the sleazy guitar lines that slimed and oozed beneath Animal Nitrate? It was Bernard Butler who replied to Anderson’s lonely hearts’ plea and their chemistry soon became apparent. Darker than The Drowners and dirtier than Metal Mickey, Animal Nitrate – Suede’s third single – is a seedy nightmare, with a gaudy riff that’s sticky and scummy like filth trodden into the pavement. Anderson, meanwhile, with his nasal yelps and sleazy meows, sounds like a strung-out Major Tom who never made it to space and had to settle for grotty flats, grim abuse and kinky shagging instead. “In your broken home he broke all of your bones/ And now you’re taking it time after time,” he shrieks, enthralled as he is appalled by the perverted relationships, the nasty drugs and the nastier sex.

Pantomime Horse

  • Glib soundbites rarely stick around for long, and one day’s headline is the next’s fish and chip paper. A choice few lines, though, can hound you for eternity, dogging your steps wherever you tread. “I see myself as a bisexual man who has never had a homosexual experience,” Anderson boasted in 1993, outraging the prudes and opening up a career-long can of homoerotic worms. Given Anderson’s teenage obsession with David Bowie, it’s little wonder he wanted to emulate his hero and seize the baton of sexual ambiguity, but it wasn’t as if those bi-curious hankerings were played out only to titillate headline-writers. It’s there in the music – especially on 1992’s debut album, with its endless coy nods and winks to the love that dare not speak its name. Take Pantomime Horse: a brooding, bruised ballad about an outcast tempted by new experiences. It’s personality-crisis-meets-sexual-awakening, and while it’s never clear exactly in what form that rutting takes place, there’s an undeniable tingle of finding someone – or something – new. “I was cut from the wreckage one day,” sighs Anderson. “This is what I get for being that way.” And then the chorus: a build-up of lush, pillowy noise into cascades of squalls and squeals, with Anderson demanding “Have you ever tried it that way-aa-aa-aay?” This way, that way or any other way: it’s still succour for the confused and sauce for the saucy.

Stay Together

  • Suede have often been rather sniffy about Stay Together, a standalone single sandwiched between their debut and its follow-up, Dog Man Star, tending to dismiss it as the tacky fly in the ointment. Butler thought Anderson’s lyrics were cliche bordering on self-parody, essentially reading like a bingo card of Suedeisms (“skyscrapers”, “nuclear nights”, “electricity” … full house!). Anderson has since described it as bombastic and lyrically so-so. But then, Stay Together is always going to be a sticky subject for them, possibly because it might remind them of a period when it became apparent they were going to do anything butstay together. Today, though, Stay Together shines as both a killer pop song, pure and simple, and a document of a band determined to do absolutely anything other than what was expected of them. Suede had been a masterclass in trashy glam-pop, its singles sticking rigidly to a verse-chorus-verse structure. And so if Anderson’s lyrics aren’t his most original – a strange, suburban, sci-fi Romeo and Juliet story of two star-crossed lovers trying to escape squalid city life with Blade Runner-like council towers and poisonous skies – it’s the composition that points towards a brave new world of twisted, ethereal guitars that gather like acidic stormclouds. Even the final chorus is a red herring: an up-yours fake finish that’s followed by three-odd minutes of warped celestial noises. Sure, it’s not Suede’s favourite Suede song, but it’s still an oddly strange, decadent little thing that showed the way towards Dog Man Star and beyond.

My Dark Star

  • For Suede, B-sides weren’t just throwaway fodder: they were precious little secrets, songs that mattered just as much as all of the hit singles and much-hallowed albums. And like the Smiths before them, they had the knack for saving some of their finest tracks for B-sides. For most bands, Killing of a Flashboy, the wistful Whipsnade, the creepily brilliant Europe Is Our Playgroundwould bepushed hard as career-best singles. Best of all, though, is My Dark Star, originally the B-side of Stay Together but a glistening gem in its own right. It’s also a deceptive little blighter: at first listen it’s tender and melancholy, all elegant piano, shimmering guitars and faded glamour, but dig deeper and there’s something sinister to be found. Some fans insist it’s a straight-up love song for Anderson’s then-girlfriend, but there are hints of revolution, disorder and warped religious salvation, too. “In a hired world she will buy a gun/ And she will come from India with a love in her eyes/ That say ‘Oh how my dark star will rise,” sighs Anderson. “In rented gear 2000 years we waited for a man/ But with a tattooed tit she’d died for us all tonight.”

We Are the Pigs

  • Suede were Britpop. Not just a mere cog in it but the oil that first greased the machine. They were the ones who, before they even released a single, were hailed by Melody Maker as Britain’s best new band; the ones who the music press, desperate for a something new they could own, backed to do it for Blighty and stick one on the Yanks. And yet Suede hated Britpop: the crass Carry-On humour, the cartoon laddism, the brutish and boozy boorishness – it left them cold. Such isolation fed into their second album Dog Man Star, a darkly extravagant masterpiece that stood against everything the movement they helped spawn had become. Just compare, for example, any of Oasis’s hymns to living big dreams in the big city and having it large with We Are the Pigs, in which London is turned into a thuggish dystopian playground, or a sexier version of Threads. “Well the church bells are calling/ Police cars on fire,” sings Anderson, like a camp town-crier preaching bloody insurrection, and then quickly turning crazed witch-catcher and shrieking “But deceit can’t save you!” And then there’s the odd musical flourishes: the crunching guitars, the blaring horns, the creepy choir of kids gleefully chanting “We will watch them burn.” Doomsday has seldom sounded so good.

Killing of a Flashboy

  • Oh, if only. If only the stars had fallen ever-so slightly differently and Suede had seen fit to make room for Killing of a Flashboy on Dog Man Star, it would have been flawless. Instead, they tossed it away as the B-side to We are the Pigs and were left to rue the decision. Anderson admitted in 2011 he and his bandmates had dropped a sizeable clanger by not including it on the album. A live favourite among Suede devotees since its release, it’s a perfect mix of the sleaze of Suede and the tragic degradation of Dog Man Star: a nuclear-powered glam-storm with a dirty-as-they-come riff and belting chorus, sticky with hints of blood, violence and nastiness. It’s popular, now, for folk to stress Suede’s feyness, but Killing of a Flashboy comes on like the nastiest geezer at the pub. “And that shitter with the pout won’t be putting it about no more,” leers Anderson menacingly over queasy, fizzy guitars. Dog Man Star might have been even better with this on the tracklist, but don’t fret for Killing of a Flashboy: something so thrillingly brutal can fend for itself.

The Asphalt World

  • The dark, elegant underbelly of Dog Man Star, and the sordid epic that helped tear Suede apart. On an album that’s littered with references to doomed Hollywood starlets undone by destructive self-decadence, from Marilyn Monroe on Heroine to James Dean on Daddy’s Speeding, it’s Anderson’s own report from the edge of deviancy: the come-down, the dark side of self-indulgence, the price and pain of excess. Anderson’s lyrics undercut the glam with the grim (“Like big stars in the back seat/ Like skeletons ever so pretty”), but it’s the twist halfway through that makes it. “She’s got a friend, they share mascara … I pretend,” he gulps, a cuckold trying to trick his brain into forgetting he’s sharing his lover with another woman. And then his voice cracks from the hollow self-delusion: “When you’re there in her arms/ And there in her legs/ Well, I’ll be in her head.” He’d later reveal that he recorded his vocals on the same day he read an interview with Butler, in which the guitarist had called the singer fame-obsessed and impossible to work with, and used the betrayal as inspiration for his performance. Butler, for his part, had wanted the song to be much longer and more audacious, rather than the nine-minute version that appeared on the LP. It’s hard to quibble with the finished edit, but the fissures between Butler and the rest of the band had developed into full-blown cracks: the guitarist quit after failing to convince the rest of the band to fire producer Ed Buller, and the album was finished without him.

Trash

  • The quintessential Suede song? If Dog Man Star was intended to be the anti-Britpop album, then Coming Up was the anti-Dog Man Star. Influenced by the band’s obsessive listening to T Rex, it’s their brightest, breeziest album, full of glam-pop stampers, handclaps and catchy-as-they-come choruses. Kicking it off is Trash, a ditty for the downtrodden, a paean for the put-upon, and an anthem for anyone seeking romance in the most humdrum nooks and crannies. It’s a view of drab suburban life blitzed into Technicolor excitement, with pistol-shot drums and a squealing, screaming guitar line. Above all else, though, it’s Suede’s love letter to Suede, a celebration of their knack for finding glamour in squalid surroundings. “But we’re trash, you and me/ We’re the litter on the breeze/ We’re the lovers on the street,” is Anderson’s manifesto for all the misfits and lost souls trapped in satellite town hell: forget the jerks and their jeers because you’re more beautiful than they could ever be.

By the Sea

  • One of Suede’s simplest songs, and one of the most stirring, too: a soft, splashy ode to the virtues of simple living and jacking in the smog and murk of the big smoke. With so many of their most famous tracks rooted in the seedy glitz of the city, it’s still a shock here to find Anderson wanting to leave the squalor behind in favour of simple, beachy pleasures. “So we sold the car and quit the job/ Shook some hands and wiped the make-up right off,” he sings. “And we said our goodbyes to the bank/ Left Seven Sisters for a room in a seaside shack.” And if Suede lounging on the sand already seems nigh-on unimaginable, then hark at those gentle keyboards! Lapping, lullaby-calm keyboards, no less! Another track from Coming Up, The Chemistry Between Us, also exposes the pitfalls of meaningless sex and drugs, but By the Sea doesn’t just snipe at the emptiness – it’s a little daydream, an idyllic getaway, a fantasy escape, and one of their loveliest songs.

10 Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away

  • Suede’s story nearly ended on the bummest of bum notes. Butler’s departure had led to much sneering that they’d fall apart without him. They silenced the naysayers with the success of Coming Up, but then set about falling apart without him anyway. 1999’s Head Music was patchy rather than poor, but 2002’s A New Morning was the soggiest of damp squibs. Anderson’s voice, turned raspy by endless chain-smoking and resembling a slightly fey Dot Cotton, sounded particularly lacklustre. “It was a real mistake, releasing that record,” he’d later admit. “A huge fuck-up.” That would have been it – a band’s legacy dumped in the dustbin – if it weren’t for 2013’s comeback album Bloodsports. After a series of reunion gigs got their juices flowing again, Suede confirmed they would be releasing a new album (although unfortunately, their comeback announcement coincided with David Bowie’s grand return; fate can be so cruel, eh?). And it turned out to be rather bloody good, too. Best of all is the deliciously gloomy Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away, which builds from echoey, lonely and sublime guitar to a monstrous chorus that bubbles and spurts like thousands of endorphins racing each other to the surface. “Sometimes I feel I’ll float away, without you to hold me,” cries Anderson – sounding, thank God, like Brett Anderson once more, offering proof Suede had returned safely, with legacy restored.

http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/oct/22/suede-10-of-the-best

Suede
Photograph: Kevin Cummins/Getty Images

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