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Suede
Best Of... Jude Rogers , November 4th, 2010 07:04

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It is April 25, 1992. It's been sixteen days since the Conservatives won a fourth term of government, picking apart the hopes of Neil Kinnock's weary Labour. 'Right Said Fred' are no. 1 in the singles charts, and no. 1 in the album charts, if that's not enough chirp for you. The future is grey and bloody hopeless, pop is brainless and banal. Then you walk into the newsagents, and Suede are on the cover of the Melody Maker.

It's easy to forget how Britain was eighteen years ago, how quickly the tide would soon build for Britpop and Blair, how soon it would wash everything that preceded it. Recently, I dug out the famous issue of the long-gone music weekly, the one so often referred to as an early benchmark for the phenomenon of indie hype, to see why this band of floppy-haired chancers, who hadn't released a note of music, were being thrown into the bearpit. The magazine itself offers clues. On the cover alongside Suede, we find Adorable, EMF, and the promise of an exclusive review of Carter USM's 1992: The Love Album. Inside, apart from a little feature about whether or not The Farm voted Tory, all is dusty and American – the news of Courtney Love's pregnancy, and her wish to call her child Frances B Cobain; a review full of yeah-man-woah squawks about The Black Crowes. By the time you come to Steve Sutherland's words about a young man from Haywards Heath with glitter on his top lip, a fantasy to have a song about a bizarre sexual experience in the top 10, and to be the first band since The Smiths to actually care about humanity, you think, fucking hell, can you really blame him for writing them?

Of course, there were some other British artists siphoning darkness and danger back then – PJ Harvey, the Auteurs and Tindersticks in particular. But Suede were the only ones to apply these ideas to the classic glamour of the band and the eternal magic and mystery of the gang dynamic. They, like us, were the litter on the breeze and the lovers on the street. They sang of the need to be bad, but belong, with grubby, lustful urgency, spurring people who shared their doubts and desires to form a resistance against dullness. Better still, this approach struck a nerve in the mainstream. Not only did Suede's 1993 debut album became the fastest-selling in Britain since Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Welcome To The Pleasuredome, and it also won that year's Mercury Prize, soldering together critical acclaim and commercial success.

Unfortunately, 18 months later everything would change. Oasis would beat Suede's debut album sales record; a lad-focussed culture would rise, engulfing other thoughtful bands like Blur. A mood of cynicism would spread across Britain that despised anything flamboyant, unless it was ironic. To put it simply, Suede were fucked. The Best Of Suede, at long last, lets time and reflection fall on their side.

This Best Of is 2-CD anthology, and it is a relentless, rambunctious piece of work. Put together obsessively by Brett Anderson over the last year, many different versions of it being burned and listened to, CD1 is a non-chronological romp through the band's singles (albeit in a different order to the 2003 Singles collection, with notable absences being 2002's shuffling, singer-songwriterly 'Positivity', and their under-par final single, 'Attitude'), whereas CD2 is a wander through album tracks and B-sides. 'Animal Nitrate' is the perfect launchpad for the whole package, both musically and conceptually, to remind us who Suede once were. Not only was it a top ten single that explicitly nodded towards the age of homosexual consent – well done, Brett, you can hear Steve Sutherland whispering, you did it – it also wobbled the wine glasses of the Brit Awards hoi-polloi at the 1993 ceremony, Anderson flailing around in a glittery shirt with only the bottom button done up. Anderson also got the title from Stuart Maconie, then an NME journalist, who was going through a list of fantasy band names for fun in the office. Suede were walking out of an interview at the time, Anderson heard Maconie's favourite, and asked if it would be OK for him to use it as a song title. The unapologetic flamboyance of it, and the acceptance of its extravagance, tells you everything you need to know about the band.

As you swagger and sway from that starting gun, Suede's consistency is impressive as the eighteen tracks pass – 'Everything Will Flow', the third single from 1998's Head Music, for instance, sounds just as vital as 'Metal Mickey' and 'The Drowners'. Nevertheless, it's hard not to smile at the recurrence of certain phrases and ideas. As a teenager, whenever a new Suede album would come out my friends and I would play Suede Bingo, pointing out any references to cigarettes, petrol and urban skylines. We were becoming cynical even then, hardening in our skinny bones. But now I am older, 'The Wild Ones', 'We Are The Pigs' and 'Stay Together' fill my mortgaged living room, I recognise the songs for what they really are – amplified experiences of our lives when we were so young and so gone, when our inner worlds are constantly getting twisted and tainted, influenced by everything, emerging in our mouths and our bodies in dark, dramatic forms. Yes, Suede's song are excessive, yes they are sometimes ridiculous – and yes, I must admit I am pleased that the edit of 'Stay Together' is on here, rather than the eight-minute version with the questionable rap. Still, I hear these boys from "nowhere towns" and "nowhere lives" trying to make something epic and glorious from the experiences that they had, and I applaud it – especially as they do so creatively and comprehensively, unlike Oasis, who would increasingly do the same thing rudely and retrogressively.

Then the second CD explores the depths. 'Pantomime Horse' takes us into a cyclone of mid-70s Eno atmospherics; 'Killing Of A Flashboy' into a warped, Brighton Rock-flavoured canvas of rum characters and rummer thoughts; 'This Hollywood Life' into a stinking pit of flashbulb-dazzled desperation (I still love the line "a handjob is all the butchery brings/'Cos fame ain't as easy as him"), 'Europe Is Our Playground' into the mindset of invincibility, and melancholy, that travel brings; 'The Living Dead' into a world where you're taught about the lessons of holding back, when you know where the money's gone, and you know what to do.

Only 'She' from Coming Up – the album track that kicked off Suede's triumphant Royal Albert Hall gig earlier this year – offers relief from this CD's gloom with its high la-la-las. But even those notes have emotional heft, adding to the passion and the pressure that pulses from every one of these 35 songs. If you can't abide that kind of full-throttle mettle, I'll grant you, this record will not be for you. But if you can, even slightly, you should stop, and come closer.

As the simple piano arpeggios of 'The Next Life' draw us to the album's final breaths, you know that Anderson knew what he was doing when he chose to put this song here – to make the fans think about what that title might mean. Also, as he burned the last version of the collection which would mark his band's legacy, you also guess he was thinking of the world that we live in now, once again swamped with brainlessness and banality, and the grey hopelessness of a Conservative government.

It is November 4, 2010. It is the right time for Suede to come alive again, to bang the drum loudly for the bands and the gangs, to tell a new generation what has to be done.

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elmsyrup
Nov 4, 2010 12:34pm

The thing is, The Ark picked up the baton from Suede and ran with it but nobody in the UK seems to care. They're the band everyone should love but nobody has heard of :-(

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James Holloway
Nov 4, 2010 2:08pm

Curiously, as much as I tried to love Suede, their music and lyrics evoked to me hopeless dog shit smeared pavements, Formica lift panelling and despair. They always had the sound of a band that perversely sounded like they were fighting a losing battle against a colourless, mediocre and pointless existence, only to not-so-secretly believe that's what they truly deserved.

When you're a teenager you tend to get enough of that from life itself. I didn't like being reminded.

Still, they're truly a talent, and I can see how utterly ace they can sound if you were a posh kid slumming it in the late Nineties.

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John Doran
Nov 4, 2010 3:04pm

In reply to James Holloway:

Give it up James... Suede didn't have a posh fanbase... And if we're comparing like with like, then they tower over all the other Brit Pop bands. (I can't include Pulp here because they'd been going for so long before this wretched genre slouched into view.)

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Nov 4, 2010 3:33pm

In reply to John Doran:

As an old Suede fan is truly warms my heart to see all the press and accolades lately. They were/ are truly majestic. There is no other band on earth who could write songs like He's Gone, the 2 Of Us, The living Dead,etc...truly special, if you get it. And many people didn't, which makes proper sense to me. But for those of us who got it, and John Doran clearly did, Suede, and Brett Anderson (i mean their discography is essentially this man's diary is it not?) meant and continue to mean so much.

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Robotman
Nov 5, 2010 7:42pm

OK, they were a great band, but is now the time that we gloss over their crap final years? I deluded myself at the time and I'm not doing it again, Anderson!

PS. Dig the inclusion of plenty of b-sides. For a time, they were the kings of the flipside

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Lodger
Nov 5, 2010 11:50pm

You people from England should be thankful for the band like Suede...Oasis are mostly meaningless ...Blur not so impressive...
and some of you, no matter what is your taste...still questioning yourself about their significance.
Even their so called "crap final years" hides some grand treasures...save them all ...why always people in Scandinavia, Germany, Russia have to remind you on the great bands you constantly ignoring like you are trying to get rid of some family members...even in Croatia Suede have so many fans, not blind followers but full of respect and fully aware of their beauty....

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Robsku
Nov 6, 2010 7:50am

God I'm so bored of this official version of Suede nowadays. How underrated and undervalued they are and how brilliant and trailblazing they were.
I remember that Melody Maker too and buying The Drowners off the back of it and, whilst finding it a wonderful pop song, also felt that it was retrogressive and a predictable sum of their influences (50% Bowie/50% Smiths).
Sure they went on the produce better and Dog Man Star is a fantastic LP but from then on in the pickings became pretty slim and as the reviewer himself remembers, awfully hackneyed.
So don't blame history and Oasis for their demise - they brought it on themselves.

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Matt Lindsay
Nov 7, 2010 4:12am

In reply to Robsku:

The problem is they wenr from being hyped to a degree that i don't think allowed them to develop properly and was probably catalytic to Bernard's departure , to being completely written out of the story of 90's music. I concur that only the first two albums really hold up but they are both definitive British guitar records and the early b-sides alone make for still great listening (the first disc of sci-fi lullabies is possibly their finest hour). As for being retrogressive , have you listened recently to the early 90's dance music made by the kind of people who were lamenting Suede's throwback sound? Posterity has hardly clutched much of it to her unforgiving bosom. Suede have a catalogue of songs that more than justifies their place in the canon (and incidentally didn't hit their commercial peak until their third album). And I really can't believe anyone would seriously argue that Oasis are essential listening after their sophomore effort. For me only Pulp rivalled Suede and of all those bands Pulp actually made the consistently good records. Jarvis was a writer of a standard no one else could realy hold a candle to but Brett was the strongest singer of all of them (Still Life is Scott Walker worthy). Blur were more adaptable and more musically versatile , able to jettison the kind of self parody Suede unfortunately lapsed into but Albarn's crew for me remain for the most part a group to be admired rather than adored .

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Tim Russell
Nov 8, 2010 9:34am

Is it me or does every single one of Jude Rogers' reviews start the same way? Does she have some sort of template? "It's (insert year). The (Labour/Tory) government have been in control for (insert number) years. The charts are dominated by (The Bay City Rollers/Bucks Fizz/Celine Dion). As I sit in my bedroom etc etc etc."

As some of the other comments have said, of all the big Britpop-era bands, only Suede & Pulp really stand up today. Oasis may as well have given up after their debut, and Blur were a joke then and are a joke now. "Dog Man Star" remains one of my favourite British albums of all time, fantastically overwrought, extraordinarily ambitious, and all the better for it. I saw them on the Dog Man Star tour and have never known such utter hysteria in an audience.

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Gerry
Nov 9, 2010 11:51am

In reply to Tim Russell:

Suede were light years ahead of every band - US and UK - in the 90s. Yes, Brett's lyrics may have lapsed into self- parody later on, but as a singer/songwriter/showman he had no rivals between '93-'96.
Of course they wore their influences on their sleeves but musically - Suede, DMS , CU - they were, for a spell, untouchable.
Incidentally, the Smiths and Bowie never made an album that comes close to DMS.
Robsku, they did not bring about their own demise, no more than Oasis et al did. The press choose their media darlings and stick by them religiously( - hence the continued success to this day of Damon Albarn, a very poor second to Brett Anderson)

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Nov 9, 2010 6:19pm

In reply to Gerry:

"Incidentally, the Smiths and Bowie never made an album that comes close to DMS."

That's very funny.

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Gerry
Nov 9, 2010 7:11pm

In reply to :

It's not ' very funny ' ; it's true. Bowie was a T.Rex/Eno plagiarist and the Smiths were abysmal.

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Tim Russell
Nov 10, 2010 4:38am

In reply to Gerry:

The Smiths were a way better band than Suede, however I agree that they never made an album as consistent and cohesive as Dog Man Star and were more of a singles band. Even their best album - The Queen Is Dead - has some dodgy filler on it (eg Frankly Mr Shankly, Some Girls Are Bigger than Others).

But...abysmal? Come on.

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Matt Lindsay
Nov 10, 2010 6:08am

In reply to Tim Russell:

Bowie is God

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Vern
Nov 12, 2010 7:22am

I have no love for the Tories but the Student Grant intro & sign off in this review is just unbearably asinine. 'Cuz Britain was like a really brainy and hopeful place under Gordon Brown and then it all changed when the bad bad man came in a few months ago. Fuck me. Grow up.

By the way, wasn't Britpop merely Indie going mainstream? I remember lots of bands like Ride, the Happy Mondays etc knocking about in the late 80s early 90s. Now a lot of them were crap, but it wasn't all Right Said Fred ye daft bint.

The dude who claims Suede are better than Bowie lives in a parallel reality.

But in general I would sum up this pish review thus: behold the musical and emotional petrification of the Britpop generation.

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Gerry
Nov 13, 2010 11:35am

In reply to Vern:

Tim/Matt/Vern,
Each to their own but... the Smiths had a vocalist who could not sing and the most simple guitarist I have ever heard. Some of their songs were good I must admit - Last Night.., Well I Wonder - but, songwise/musically they are not in the same league as Anderson/Butler.
As for Bowie, he is not God or a genius so I do think Suede are better. The Dame was bettered by a number of other 70s songwriters; Bolan, Ferry, Lynott to name a few.

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nafnaf
Nov 13, 2010 12:47pm

In reply to Gerry:

Wow there. The Smiths "had a vocalist who could not sing"? Hmmm. I'm a Suede fan and I quite like Brett Anderson's affected singing but Morrisey and The Smiths are, well, The Smiths. Suede are an interesting 90's band.

Really, without The Smiths or Bowie there would be no Suede. To me they were the best "style" band, but there is something almost too coldly brittle about their first records that could never be replicated. There was the impression they were going for aesthetic "perfection", which is a dangerous dead end for any band hoping to last more than a couple of records. It's as if they'd created a lovely, perfect glam prison for themselves.

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Tim Russell
Nov 15, 2010 2:17pm

In reply to Gerry:

"A vocalist who could not sing". Like Nick Cave, Dylan, Waits, Bernard Sumner, Lou Reed then. Maybe you prefer people who can sing - Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, or anyone who appears on the X Factor? Eeh, it's like punk never 'appened...

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Patti
Nov 15, 2010 8:43pm

How weird to read adults arguing about bands/artists being 'better' than others - music either moves you or it doesn't, and how much some songs/bands move you more than others has absolutely nothing to do with 'quality'! I loved the Smiths intensely for a while but almost never revisit them as I got to finding them tiresome - a word I will never ever use about Suede - not because they're any worse. It's just personal taste! I'm glad Suede are getting the attention at the moment and I hope the 'Best Of' nudges many more people to find out what all the fuss was about. I can't bring myself to trudge up to the O2 to see them though - I prefer to stick with my memories of the Town Pump and the Hammersmith Palais, both very charmed nights in my life back then.

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Gerry
Nov 16, 2010 11:40am

In reply to Patti:

Tim,
Yeah, you are right; Dylan, the punks et al can not sing but I do like Dylan because he is a quality songwriter. No, I don't like X factor garbage or Mariah etc; it's vacuous chart pap.
The Smiths and Bowie would not have existed without Velvets, Bolan, Byrds( - the origin of Marr's guitar style) so it goes both ways.
Foe nafnaf to say Suede are a 'style ' band ' imprisoned in their own glam prison ' is a load of nonsense. Their best songs can hold their own in any company unlike the Smiths who were a repetitive indie band; in contrast to Brett, Morrissey never developed as an artist; his last few records are no different to his first solo albums 20 years ago. Anderson's most recent, Slow Attack is markedly different to DMS or Coming Up.
Patti sums it up perfectly though; it's all personal taste at the end of the day.

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DMay
Sep 11, 2013 8:07pm

The first two albums of the band are absolutely unique and amazing. I miss the atmosphere of Britain of that time through the music, though never lived then. And of course, teenager's mental soreness (as a concept) filling those albums are bloody charming and captivating, just like The Smiths' one, but on slightly different level. Thank you, British people, for such a band.

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jon
Apr 8, 2014 6:33pm

Most compilation albums are a failure in my opinion but this one is just....fantastic. Everything is here, all their good songs are included, included my adored breathtaking ballad "By the sea". Suede rocks!

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