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Still So Young? A Personal Exploration Of The Suede Reissues
Luke Turner , June 10th, 2011 09:06

Luke Turner sat down to review the five Suede album reissues, and 2000 words, a bottle of red, and a story about a disappointing young man called Russell later, this is what he came up with

Whether it was proclaiming himself to be a bisexual who'd never had a homosexual experience, executing pronounced and artful sniffs as punctuation in interviews, making queeny comments about his rivals, or composing lovely vignettes in his songs, Brett Anderson always had a taste for a nicely, if overly-wrought, turn of phrase. And so it is that, in his liner notes for the reissue of Suede's self-titled debut album, the singer writes: "And now the rush has past, the dust has settled and we're left with this; the album where it all began. This was our music, this was our lives; flawed, strange but sometimes beautiful". In those latter five words, Brett Anderson perfectly sums up the Suede that's presented in this extraordinary, warts and all series of reissues of the band's five albums.

These flaws are what made Suede one of those rare groups that it's hard to consider without getting into the personal. I don't think anybody just liked Suede, remarking on them in casual conversation, 'oh yeah, what was that song?' No, you loved Suede, you lived and breathed them, you dressed like them, smoked the same fags they did and, when they invented the brown rice diet, ate like them too. You even, as one Twitter follower of the Quietus typed to us last night, might form an all-female Suede tribute band called edeus.

They (Suede, not edeus) were probably one of the biggest inspirations on my life, without whom I would not be sitting here knocking back a slightly dry Bordeaux and writing these words. One of my proudest moments as a music critic was to see a quote from a Suede review I did for NME featured on the sticker of last year's Best Of album. Yes, as much as they inspired self-confidence, Suede did a tidy line in vanity, even arrogance. I also remember the fanclub (four mags and a gig for a tenner a year) concerts, going down on my own and looking at all these intimidating Suede fans, and never managing to get up the courage to say hello. I remember that there was a month of my life involving Suede lyrics, the early days of email and a young man called Russell. That's a story for down the page. I remember those gigs last year, at the 100 Club, Royal Albert Hall, and Bush Hall where I was down the front, suit drenched in sweat, and experiencing a group who for once a nostalgic reformation was justified because they really, really had something to prove. It was like being 17 again, only better, because being 17 was pretty ropey. I remember that Suede were, and are, writers of the music that I'd turn to when at the top and the bottom, but never in between.

That's the trouble with Suede: you end up 400-odd words into reviewing a massive stack of fold out, photo-covered albums, with lots of arse-slapping DVD footage, and you can't quite get around to beginning to break it down into whether the re-master feels any different, the comments about the b-sides that have all been made before, and that tiresome Bernard vs Non-Bernard argument that I know I have been far too partisan about.

And what's the point of trying to nail it all down with words? While those gigs last year were a wonderful vindication of Suede, and their recent three night album stop off at Brixton saw a legion of new, mainly female fans, they're never going to succeed in convincing the increasingly prosaic British population that they're worth bothering with. As with the man I saw on the Victoria Line last week, a little older than me, in office gear, eagerly pulling the cellophane off his Dog Man Star reissue as if he were 20 years younger and still wearing ladies' blouses, these are artefacts for the devoted, to be treasured and poured over. Even if their cardboard spines are a little thin.

Suede

I've normally got cloth ears when it comes to working out whether remastering has changed anything, but Suede does sound a lot beefier and less tinny than the original mix. The Suede reissue is worth buying alone for the Love & Poison DVD of the band's May 1993 performance at Brixton Academy, which I was too young to go to. I only reluctantly got shot of the video, despite not having had a VHS player for years. There's also early Suede track 'Painted People', a mythical piece of music back in the days before file-sharing.

Dog Man Star

The 'Bernie a big waffling muso ponce / he was the visionary who should never have left' debate is, if not answered, then given a good spin on the Dog Man Star extra disk. The original version of 'The Wild Ones' loses the simplicity of its sad romance thanks to unnecessary guitar fills that prang around like Neil Young at a gay disco. But the original 'The Asphalt World' actually feels way more muscular with the extra minutes, the nasty guitars rather complimenting Brett's London pill souper lyrics. Recently I went to see Suede perform Dog Man Star and Coming Up in their entirety at Brixton Academy. The latter gig was a case in point of why I find those Classic Album gigs unsatisfying: all the spontaneity is gone. But Dog Man Star stood up beautifully because it's just such a perfectly made and sequenced album, even if Suede casually spunked away 'Killing Of A Flashboy' and 'The Living Dead' (two of the best songs they ever wrote) on b-sides. Aesthetically it was perfect too - flicking through the booklet now I remember how the photograph of a topless woman in a cycle helmet raising her arms felt like something radical. In the notes Brett Anderson writes "If I could choose to be remembered for just one musical document it would be this". Wise words: Dog Man Star is not only Suede's greatest work, it's also one of the best British albums of the 90s, and possibly beyond.

Coming Up

Writing about the new Suede line-up that made Coming Up Anderson says "I remember feeling like a proper unit again; a hormonal, rowdy, leather-clad gang, wreathed in the smoke of too many Benson & Hedges and determined to re-engage with life". When Coming Up came out, Brett Anderson was 30 years old. Yet again, that's sort of the whole point of Coming Up - it was a rowdy and saucy record by a load of black-clad drug fiends, faintly ridiculous but brilliant pop with it. Across all the reissues, the demos are curiously played at half the speed they ended up as, and it must be said that the 4-track 'Trash' has none of the power of the final version. It is, rather accurately, called 'Pisspot'. The demo of 'Saturday Night', though, is a vastly superior version to the rather schmaltzy track that ended up on the actual album. There's also the wonderful 'Europe Is Our Playground', the b-side that pointed to the synth future that never quite happened, and footage of the December 1996 Roundhouse gig where Suede were joined by Neil Tennant for versions of 'Saturday Night' and Pet Shop Boys' Rent'.

Head Music

I was - and still am - a defender of much of Head Music, which always felt like a record by a band trying their best to do something new, but being flummoxed (perhaps by drugs, perhaps by insecurity, probably both) as to how to do it. As the recent live shows have proved, 'Can't Get Enough' is a robotic, uncaring stomper – written by a Brett in his 30s clinically deciding he must do what he must do to move the band forward. In the notes for the record, Anderson himself says that this desire for a group that was born in guitar glam to move into mean electronic soul and become "more European" was never quite realised - he even presents an alternate tracklisting: "listening to all this stuff makes me want to rewrite history". An excitable fan moment for me comes in the disc two inclusion of 'Implement Yeah!', Suede's tribute to The Fall that was apparently an early track, resurrected when Justine Frischmann briefly rejoined the band at the Reading Festival in 1997. It's a funny one, Head Music. You get the impression that had Suede even managed to make the record that was in their head, it was probably the wrong time. 1999, the year of Head Music's release, saw the rise of Coldplay, Travis, Embrace et al, while Suede's old rivals Blur released 13, featuring mawkish ditties about Albarn and Anderson's mutual ex, Justine Frischmann. Quite how a robotic Euro electro punk Suede would have fitted in I have no idea.

A New Morning

I never listened to it at the time, and I can't quite muster the interest now. It's hard to want to engage with a record when the people who made it have pretty much told you they wish they hadn't have bothered. So I think I'll let the old mind drift…

When I was arrived at university in 1997 we'd just been given these new-fangled things called email addresses. I didn't know what to do with mine, as I'd not really grasped that whole "UNI" thing of instantly making loads of friends. Instead, I'd sit in my room drinking wine, smoking cigs, listening to Suede, self-indulgently moping as 18-year-olds will. I did, though, manage to meet a relatively good-looking chap at some thing or other, we vaguely talked about music, I found his email address and, as I had nobody else to send messages to, I started sending them to him… which inevitably involved me quacking on about Suede. I started emailing him Suede lyrics, laboriously typed out from the sleeves, and these gradually took on a certain hue - the "we kiss in his room to a popular tune" "on a high wire, dressed in a leotard" "I want the style of a woman, the kiss of a man" "I'm 18 and I need my heroine" "in your council home he jumped…" alright, you can stop cringing now, but he responded in kind. This went on for a few days, until we met for a drink, which didn't last very long, because a rather fumbly but quite enjoyable night ensued. A few days later I emailed Russell and said it was ace to have met someone who saw Suede in the same way as I did... and he emailed back, confessing that he wasn't really a Suede fan at all, and had in fact been using Suede fansites (Luddite me didn't even know they existed) to look up lyrics, and he hoped I didn't mind. I, of course, did mind, and decided I didn't like Russell very much. He ended up wearing silver trousers and shiny sunglasses, and going out with a really awful girl. This misappropriation of Suede, the group I held so dearly, meant that Russell was a terrible disappointment.

But never Suede, even when they were at their most disappointing. They were still a band who meant everything, anything, had that gang mentality and that very special something that you could cling on to, obsess over. Indeed, I always knew the game was up when Suede released a single called 'Obsessions' – it was something that really didn't need to be said. Suede was more than music because Suede was an idea that was more than perfect. It's sad to say it, but as I put these reissue CDs on the shelf and write about the band for perhaps the last time, I doubt we shall ever see their like again.

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