Absorbing Noname, Christine and the Queens, Eric Church, and Neneh Cherry has put Suede’s new album at the bottom of my list of priorities, but the excellence of their two albums released this decade suggest it won’t disappoint. I haven’t shed my affection for the eponymous debut and especially Dog Man Star, and I need to give Head Music another listen.
1. Dog Man Star (1994)
In the same period when The Auteurs and Saint Etienne would suffer sale declines because the British press could not resist the Blur vs Oasis, Suede also stumbled: the departure of their guitarist and what looked like their most crucial member; a legal kerfuffle that led to the silly affixing of the preface “The London” to their American albums; and this overripe fruit basket of an album. Taking advantage of a higher budget and Bernard Butler’s ambitions, Suede assembled twelve days of Sddom. Lovers kiss under sodium lights breeding disease on their hands and knees on disguised suburban graves as singer Brett Anderson screams his name through the astral plane. Junk guitar riff upon riff. Strings and horns. It’s one of the few albums I own that in its final third gets quieter and louder. By the time Anderson is making like Scott Walker singing Judy Garland on the grand finale “Still Life,” the glass house has cracked, the tiles have fallen in, and, like the tenor in the Bugs Bunny cartoon, he’s wailing beneath rubble. I’ve never seen a Dog Man Star on a karaoke machine and the world is a sadder place. My favorite album of 1994. Still is.
2. Suede (1993)
Boy, was this thing hyped, even on these shorts. Details, SPIN, Rolling Stone — the big three published interviews. Despite a mix that made the band sound like someone was squeezing them under a door, their debut matched the hype; I’ll even make a case for “Animal Lover.” On Dog Man Star Anderson claimed to want “the style of a woman, the kiss of a man; in “The Drowners” he writes about love “down there” while Butler’s “Cracked Actor”-damaged guitar filths up a story about kissing in his room to a popular tune. On “Animal Nitrate,” Anderson, standing in front of the bathroom mirror in undies and a hairbrush mike, stretches his o’s like Morrissey in 1985. For a young man ending his college freshman year surrounded by the detritus of his sexuality, Suede was the sun shining out of his behind.
3. Coming Up (1996)
The exiting of a guitarist/essential arranger is a hallmark of British bands, but, as Oakes proved, and Morrissey did too in the first few years of his solo career, England boasts thousands of guitarists who’ve been rehearsing Johnny Marr’s mirror moves for three decades. Even so, at the height of Blur vs. Oasis, few expected Suede, the London to recover their momentum. With the help of Butler’s replacement Richard Oakes and a full-time keyboardist named Neil Codling, Suede did — remarkably. Coming Up outperformed every previous Suede album, sending five singles into the British top ten. “Trash,” “She,” and “Filmstar” create the impression that Dog Man Star was a nightmare from which the band has awakened; instead, these songs shudder with the weight of three years’ accumulated baggage, and it’s a good shudder — Suede was never this tense again. Oakes proved himself a more than reliable cranker-out of Mick Ralphs readymades; for many fans, this is the only version of the band that’s existed. If Coming Up has a flaw, it’s that the band has mostly recorded eight or nine “Metal Mickey” remakes: “Picnic by the Motorway” lacks Butler’s orchestral pretensions.
4. Stay Together EP (1993) and Sci-Fi Lullabies (1997)
British bands care too much about singles to let fabulous B-sides go to waste; this stopgap EP gathers the title track, a rough draft of the next album’s “The Wild Ones,” and three peeks into the swank rooms of the elegantly wasted: “Heroine,” “The Living Dead,” “My Dark Star.” But wait there’s more! “To the Birds,” “Whipsnade,” “Europe is Our Playground,” and the fabulous “My Insatiable One,” powered by a classic chord sequence and one of Anderson’s last bits of publicly exposed queer identification.
5. Night Thoughts (2016)
After a late nineties renaissance, Suede disappeared, felled by sundry addictions. In 2013 they released a more than respectable record called Bloodsports. “I don’t have the means of expression/To explain my obsessions,” Anderson lies on “What I’m Trying To Tell You.” Jesus, dude, what have you been doing for twenty-three years? Were you that zonked?