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

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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