Suede

TrackAlbum / Single
To The BirdsNude NUD 1S
He's DeadNude NUD 3S
Animal NitrateNude NUD 4S
The Big TimeNude NUD 4S
Pantomime HorseSuede
The Next LifeSuede
The Living DeadNude NUD 9S
The Wild OnesDog Man Star
Black Or BlueDog Man Star
The Asphalt WorldDog Man Star
By The SeaComing Up
For The StrangersBloodsports

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Contributor: David Tanner

 

It’s the 1993 Brit Awards and here we have some of the winners …

Best British Female – Annie Lennox
Best British Male – Mick Hucknall
Best British Group – Simply Red
Best British Newcomer – Tasmin Archer
Best British Single – Take That

Amid this staid bow tied gathering one group who have not been awarded anything, but due to a campaign by the NME are to perform this evening, are Suede. The performance is a revelation as Suede, “out of time, and out of tune” as one observer put it, thrash their way through Animal Nitrate all bile and spittle. The band finish and leave the stage to polite applause from a bemused audience.

 

Animal Nitrate entered the charts at No.7 on its release later in the month and in a bizarre twist the song was then nominated for Best British Single at the 1994 Brit Awards.

Hidden away on the B-side was The Big Time, apparently one of Brett’s favourite Suede songs, and it has a beautiful flugelhorn solo at the centre of a bittersweet tale of love losing out to fame.

 

But we are getting ahead of ourselves here, so back to 1992 and the first Suede recordings. The debut single released in May 1992, The Drowners, did very little, but started a continuing trend of having excellent B-sides. Here we have the majestic To The Birds with sheets of guitars surrounding Brett Anderson’s ambiguous lyrics:

Don’t take your life cos your bicycle won’t fly
You may be going to heaven tonight
I wouldn’t give a shit if your bicycle’s in bits
I think I’m going to heaven on it

What’s that all about then Brett? Bicycle/Bisexual, oh, I see.

The next single Metal Mickey in September 1992 did better and actually entered the top 20, earning them their first Top Of The Pops appearance.

All long girlie hair and floppy blouses, what did a world in the middle of grunge make of this? There really was no one looking or sounding like Suede in 1992.

As their profile increased Select magazine chose Brett Anderson for their famous issue titled ‘Yanks Go Home’. The cover had the singer in front of a Union Jack and announced that the British bands Suede, Saint Etienne, Pulp, Denim and The Auteurs were ‘fighting for Britain’. It was the start of Britpop but no one really knew that at the time, and Suede would swiftly distance themselves from the whole Britpop tag.

 

Once again, a classic track appears as a B-side on Metal Mickey.

He’s Dead is probably my favourite Suede track, notable for the sound of Bernard Butler’s guitar which is all over this song. I can hear an echo of the guitar tone and main riff on Blur’s Oily Water, from the same year. Deliberate? Unconscious?

The live version on the Love And Poison film (which can be found on the deluxe 2011 reissue DVD) is even better – more guitar!

 

The first album Suede sold over 100,000 copies in its first week of release, going gold on its second day and winning the 1993 Mercury Music prize. Brett would later regret[1] a couple of the track inclusions, Moving and Animal Lover, preferring to have put the B-sides My Insatiable One and To The Birds onto the album and he has a point. He thought that the former titles worked well live but not as well as studio album tracks.

Around this time Brett had been repeating his assertion that he was, “a bisexual man who never had a homosexual experience”.[2]

Suede had always courted controversy. If the majority of your songs were about sex, drugs and death, what could you expect? To compose your own Suede lyrics go to the hilarious Suede Lyric Generator.

Pantomime Horse and its lyrics lead us further into Brett’s dystopian androgynous world, which hilariously Bernard never heard until it was recorded as he states he could never hear what Brett was singing when they played live.[3]

“Have you ever tried it that way?” sings Brett, playing up to his apparent bisexual nature.

Later it transpired that Brett “probably hadn’t ever tried it that way”.[4]

 

Possibly the tenderest moment is the album closer, The Next Life, a song written about Brett’s dead mother. Just Bernard on piano and Brett’s heart-wrenching vocals.

 

By now the cracks in the relationship between Bernard Butler and the rest of the band, especially Brett, were looming large. Bernard had a fairly settled life with his soon to be wife, the rest were still indulging in a riot of ecstasy and cocaine. On tour Bernard was travelling separately from the rest of the band.

Before the next album, Suede delivered a stopgap single Stay Together. Brett has said of it, “I just find it a bit bombastic. I don’t think the lyrics are that good either. It’s okay, you know, it’s okay. I think the B-sides are much better.”[5] Quite.

Stay Together’s B-side The Living Dead is another two hander, with just Bernard on acoustic guitar and something – a synth? – in the background. Its lyrics are about a gay couple with a heavy cocaine habit. Bernard was not amused, “I’ve written this really beautiful piece of music and its a squalid song about junkies.”[6]

 

During the sessions for what would become the Dog Man Star album, Bernard, unhappy with how the work was progressing, left the band and the Anderson/Butler alliance was severed. He was fed up and bored with the first album and wanted to make something very different. The influences that forged the album were various. Joy Division’s Closer and The Smiths The Queen Is Dead for Bernard; Scott Walker and Kate Bush for Brett.

Also, as was becoming the norm for Brett, drugs were very influential, “I scrambled my brain on acid, coke and E and out came Dog Man Star.”[7]

Dog Man Star is Suede’s masterpiece, a summation of all the band was at that time; contrary, overblown, theatrical. For a full and fascinating in depth look at the album read Matthew Lindsay’s article over at The Quietus.

I’ve chosen three tracks from this album. The first, The Wild Ones, is another of Brett’s all time favourite Suede tracks. It was released as a single in November 1994 and peaked at #18 in the UK charts:

There’s a song playing through another wall
All we see and believe is the DJ and debts dissolve

It’s a wonderful description of the power of music to transport you out of misery.

 

My second choice from Dog Man Star is Black Or Blue:

I don’t care if you’re black or blue,
me and the stars stay up for you
I don’t care who’s wrong or right
and I don’t care for the UK tonight so stay, stay

Bernard’s guitar playing here was inspired by his recent discovery of Bert Jansch.

 

The Asphalt World is Suede’s magnum opus featuring sex, drugs and a car ride. Hello J.G.Ballard! Bernard wanted the guitar solo to be a lot longer than the released edit. The rest of the group strongly disagreed. If you’re curious there’s a longer version on the re-released Dog Man Star CD.

With ice in her blood
And a dove in her head
Well how does she feel when she’s in your bed?

 

With the departure Of Bernard Butler, Suede recruited the 17-year-old Richard Oakes. He had his own style, but could also do note perfect versions of the old Suede catalogue. His first appearance with the band was on TV, miming to Bernard’s guitar part on We Are The Pigs.

The next album, Coming Up, was released in September 1996, and Suede indulged in some glorious glam pop, far away from the angst of Dog Man Star and lead single Trash reached No.3 in the charts, becoming their biggest selling single.

However, Coming Up still has its darker moments with By The Sea being a favourite from this album.

 

After this everything went downhill, with Brett’s drug habit and seeming inability to come up with a decent tune dogging the next two albums, 1999’s Head Music and 2002’s A New Morning. In 2003, Suede announced they would not be working together, Brett stating that he was artistically dead.

This might have been the end, and a sad one at that. However, after working with Bernard again briefly in The Tears project, and Brett recording some solo albums, the unexpected happened. In 2011, Suede reformed – with Oakes but without Butler, and with original members Mat Osman (bass) and Simon Gilbert (drums) – played lots of gigs and produced in 2013 their best album since Coming Up, the universally praised Bloodsports. I’m already over the ten, but my selection is For The Strangers:

And its ever so clear
And its ever so plain
For the all strangers out there

Suede, always for the strangers, the outcasts, the wild ones.

 

[1]Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler 2011 interview for CD reissue
[2]Suede the biography, David Barnett 2003
[3]Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler 2011 interview for CD reissue
[4]Suede the biography, David Barnett 2003
[5]Suede the biography, David Barnett 2003
[6]Suede the biography, David Barnett 2003
[7]Suede the biography, David Barnett 2003

 

Suede official website

Brett Anderson official website

Official Bernard Butler Website

Suede biography (iTunes)

David Tanner hails originally from South Wales and spent 40 years working as a librarian – the last 30 in Yorkshire – and is now happily retired in France. There are not many music genres he doesn’t like and he’s never stopped seeking out good music. Always another unknown band around the corner! He writes about music and random culture at Other Formats Are Available.

TopperPost #410

2 Comments

  1. Calvin Rydbom
    Feb 11, 2015

    I must admit, I knew the name but this was a band whose UK success never translated to the US. I’m going to have to give them even more of a listen though after what I heard today.

  2. Matt Jenkins
    Nov 15, 2018

    Great band, style and tunes, plagued by some pretty poor lyrics (not all the time) and some dismal production. The first three albums don’t sound particularly good at all. Thin, nasally and lack solid bottom end. It suits the odd song, but overall sounds pretty shit. Then again I’m not a huge fan of producer Ed Buller. The mixes are average. You write off Head Music, which for me is the one that sounds the best. The tunes are strong, and the production and mixes sound deep, spacious and have a beautiful round bottom end/bass and crisp not thin and smeary treble/top end. But I agree some of those early B sides were pretty rad and superior to album tracks. As a songwriter, musician and producer myself, I believe The Tears album is the best thing Bernard and Brett did together. The songs, the playing, the singing and lyrics are awesome – tasty production and some brilliant guitar playing.

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