Thursday, 13 November 2008

Suede, Suede (1993, Nude)

Suede's crucial contribution in reviving England's ailing music scene and jump-starting Britpop is completely glossed over.

Nothing epitomises the cannibalistic nature of the British music press like the way Suede were treated. While music magazines are still struggling to let go of the 90s and its most celebrated sacred cows (Oasis, Blur and Verve in particular), it is almost universally forgotten that the past decade's musical renaissance was jumpstarted by the rise of Suede.It's important to remember how dreary the UK music scene looked in the early 90s.

Anybody who was a schoolkid back then knows how the music menu resembled a pre-Jamie Oliver school canteen. A binge of American imports for starters (those were the days of grunge and the Seattle scene - along with the back end of hair metal). The rank Madchester scene as a main, a side choice of Neds Atomic Dustbin or Carter USM and a dessert consisting of some atrocious bored-looking indie bands dubbed as "shoegazing scene".

Then in 1992 rumour had it that a brand new band of failed students and Haywards Heath- émigrés who stuck out like a sore thumb were turning a head or two. The initial reviews talked of an electrifying four-piece that was attempting to bring songwriting back to the fore in the guise of a captivating hybrid between Bowie and The Smiths and stage theatrics that only someone aware of being in for the big time would be able to pull off.

By the time their eponymous album came out in 1993, Suede were the talk of the town. Their attention to detail seemed to stem from a different era. Every sleeve and every song told a seductive story, with a musical background that struck a fine balance between Brett Anderson's tormented vocals and Bernard Butler's sublime guitars and arrangements. For the first time since the 1970s, tasteful guitar solos and glam hooks were being brought back into a pop context. Here was a band unashamed of a record collection consisting mainly of Bowie, Roxy Music and Velvet Underground. It was also the first time since The Smiths that someone attempted to channel bed-sit angst into provocative lyrics. Suede wrote snapshots of satellite town dreariness. The press, simply, loved it. "The new Morrissey & Marr" became the cliché tag. Suede went straight to no.1.

So enamoured were the press that they were quite happy to turn a blind eye on some of Suede's most naïve aspects (the irritatingly tinny production or Butler's penchant for overindulging in guitar overdubs), choosing instead to read them as endearing qualities. Whichever angle, the combination worked a treat, allowing Suede to stand out from their peers. The album alternated moments of pure energy with moody, theatrical flashes. The teasing 3-minute trash pop of Metal Mickey or Moving epitomise the band's almost raw energy - almost punkish at times. Animal Nitrate too, the student anthem of 1993, while depicting images of an abusive relationship, was peerless in the way it sneaked in references to council estates and broken homes as well as the political controversy surrounding the age of consent (which, back in the tail-end days of the Tory administration, was causing a real storm). Similarly, debut single The Drowners is the perfect vehicle for Butler's grinding guitar and Anderson's vocals to ride along a contagious rhythm.

Suede's darker, more introspective side was on the display on The Next Life, led by a haunting piano, the nocturnal She's Not Dead or the decadent, almost histrionic Pantomime Horse. Suede ended 1993 as the band to love.

Which is when the UK music press paraded their absolute state of neurosis. By the time Suede's follow-up, Dog Man Star came out in 1994, the band were literally being ripped apart. The very same papers that a few months before couldn't keep Suede out of their front pages were now scorning their "pretentiousness" and ridiculed them as a fake, derivative, whining, irritating bunch. Damon Albarn's mock Cockney accent and sudden love for Chelsea FC was deemed more "authentic" and the Gallaghers family spats much easier on the brain than Brett Anderson's existential dilemmas.

To this date, Suede's crucial contribution in reviving England's ailing music scene and jump-starting Britpop is completely glossed over. As revivals come in waves of fifteen to twenty years, however, expect the tables to be turned.


the fein said...

Great review! I think I'll be checking this blog quite often;) Keep rocking!

Stan Moss said...

I was never a big fan of Suede myself, but I've got to agree it's quite disturbing how they went from flavour of the month to getting industrial amounts of stick almost overnight.

I think it was the seeds of what you see nowadays at a rate of every 3/4 months with all the celebrities. Kerry Katona good mum. Kerry Katona scum. Amy Winehouse new great talent. Amy Winehouse scummy junkie. Cheryl Tweedy shaz. Cheryl Tweedy sublime.

It's our fucked up country, my friends.

Helen Highwater said...

Oooh, I loves me some Suede. When I heard "Animal Nitrate" I thought Brett would jump through my window and kidnap me, like Peter Pan on glue with floppy hair, and I'd be only too pleased to go with him.