“The history of this fucking band is ridiculous. it’s like machiavelli rewriting fear and loathing in las vegas. it involves a cast of thousands. it should star charlton heston … it’s like a pram that’s just been pushed down a hill. it’s always been fiery and tempestuous and really on the edge and it never stops. i don’t think it ever will.”
so said suede’s vocalist brett anderson back in august 1994, though the quote could just have easily have come from almost any point in the band’s tumultuous career. for the story of suede is one of extremes. of dizzying heights and desperate lows. of times when they seemed to have the world at their feet and other periods where it seemed impossible to continue. and it is this refusal to throw in the towel, this triumph over adversity, no matter how high the odds are stacked against them, that is part of their enduring appeal and goes some way to explaining the near fanatical devotion they inspire amongst their supporters.
suede’s detractors have often pegged the band as cold, cynical, pretentious and most damning of all, humourless. the very opposite is the case. suede are all too human. their songs are tragi-comic dramas about real people and real lives. or as brett once put it, “about the used condom under the bed.” their story – without wishing to sound too cynical, humourless or (god forbid) pretentious – is a testament to the power of the human spirit.
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as everyone knows, suede are one of the uk’s most important and influential bands. they kick-started the renaissance in british guitar groups, weathered the inevitable fall-out, survived various personnel changes and inspired a generation of starry-eyed dreamers and bedsit musicians – here was a band worth believing in. they were the first “alternative” act to be awarded the mercury music prize, won plaudits from artists ranging from david bowie to derek jarman, and ten years on remain one of the few british bands with truly international appeal – their last album spawning number one hits from peru to singapore.
suede famously gatecrashed the uk music scene just over a decade ago on the back of some of the most hyperbolic press notices ever, not least the front cover of melody maker which called them “the best new band in britain” before they had even released one note of music.
when they did, songs like metal mickey and animal nitrate became smash hit singles, anthems to a new generation, while ballads like pantomime horse and sleeping pills would help make their eponymous debut album “the most eagerly awaited since never mind the bollocks here’s the sex pistols”.
suede became renowned too for their b-sides which were often every bit as good, and in some cases better than the hits. my insatiable one was famously covered by morrissey and he wasn’t their only celebrity fan. when suede covered the pretenders’ brass in pocket for the nme’s ruby trax charity album, chrissie hynde declared their version better than the original – and later joined them on stage to sing it at a benefit concert collaboration with derek jarman.
despite some legal wrangling across the pond which meant they had to call themselves “the london suede” in america, the band were still in the ascendancy as 1994 began. their latest release, an awe-inspiring 8 minute epic entitled stay together, became their biggest hit to date.
of course, as we now know suede’s original guitarist and co-songwriter bernard butler walked out of the studio toward the end of the recording of their second album, never to return. despite this, dog man star was a triumph, and although their least commercially successful is still regarded by many as their finest work being one of only four releases from the 90s to make it into a guardian poll of the 100 greatest records of all time.
as the three-piece suede soldiered on valiantly to finish their masterpiece, the press had a field day. “is it all over for the best new band in britain?” the supernova success of oasis and the reinvented blur (who’s singer damon albarn was now stepping out with brett’s paramour and one-time suede guitarist justine frischmann) seemed to dwarf suede’s previous achievements. the chorus of doom was not quietened by the announcement that the replacement to bernard butler, by now elevated to johnny marr guitar god status, would be an unknown 17 year old schoolboy from dorset, richard oakes. the first single from the forthcoming album barely scraped the top 20 and for all its merits, dog man star sat uncomfortably on the sidelines of the cheery britpop beerfest.
the curse of america returned when brett fell off stage and hobbled through the rest of their latest us tour with the aid of a cane. the final gig of 95 was at the ill-fated phoenix festival. the minute the band set foot on stage the heavens opened. “i thought ‘someone’s really got it in for us!’” grins brett ruefully.
and then there were five. midway through the recording of their third lp, at that point going under the unlikely working title of “old people make me sick”, drummer simon gilbert’s cousin, one neil codling, dropped by to borrow one of brett’s jackets and joined the band by osmosis as keyboard player, occasional guitarist and teen heartthrob. suede were now invincible and proved the point by crashing into the top 3 with trash, their biggest hit yet, only held off the top spot by robbie williams’ debut and something called wannabe by a once popular girl group.
the album had no opposition. coming up was released in september 1996, went straight to number one and spawned a further four top ten singles.
saturday night was the band’s christmas hit, coinciding with three sold out nights at london’s roundhouse. on the final evening suede were joined by the pet shop boys’ neil tennant who sang on both the latest suede hit, and suede’s blistering version of the shoppies’ own rent.
the coming up world tour finally ended with a headline appearance at the reading festival. the band were joined by another special guest, former suedette turned elastica frontperson justine frischmann. suede had come full circle, now comfortable with their past (or most of it). a double cd set of b-sides was released to prove the point and went top ten.
after an 18 month hiatus the band returned in may 1999 with a new producer (steve osborne of happy mondays fame) and a new, colder, more electronic sound. electricity, the lead single, went top 5 and the album, head music, gave them their third number one. she’s in fashion became suede’s biggest ever radio hit while the summer saw the band headline virtually every festival in europe, not least the uk’s v99. but behind the scenes all was not well. subsequent singles struggled to make the top 20 and rumours were rife when neil, suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, missed several of the shows on the tour.
all seemed to be back to normal, though, when suede played a one-off concert in iceland in october 2000. brett even joked, “ladies and gentlemen, neil codling … back from the dead!”
suede unveiled no less than nine new songs that night and received ecstatic reviews – “anyone who thought that head music signalled the artistic end of suede is going to have to think again,” raved the nme. “the new songs are amazing and arguably the best things they’ve ever done.” yet such was suede’s stringent quality control that only five of these songs would make it to the new record.
then in march 2001 as the band finally prepared to begin work on their fifth album, neil officially left the band in a shock announcement. his replacement was long-time suede associate alex lee, formerly of strangelove. “alex was on the last european tour and i got to know him really well,” recalls brett.. “apart from getting on with him it was also really obvious that he was a bit of a whizzkid. he can play anything. so when neil decided that he had to leave, there was only one phone call i made.”
another setback occurred when the initial sessions for the album, recorded with beck sidekick tony hoffer, were effectively shelved. “we went in with an idea that we were going to make a very strange electronic folk record,” explains bass player mat osman. “the songs were good, they just didn’t fit each other. tony’s a lovely guy, it’s a shame it didn’t work out.”
it wasn’t until january this year that recording proper began, with stephen street now on board. “we’d known stephen for years, but never talked about recording with him because he was constantly working,” says mat. “we were only in with him about nine weeks but we wrote four or five new tunes and recorded the whole album. after all that time it came together really quickly at the end.”
if coming up were the euphoric rush of an ecstasy binge, and head music the crashing come down, then a new morning is what it feels like to survive and come out the other end with a revitalised joie de vivre. it’s an album that somehow manages to combine all the best bits of previous suede records and still sound remarkably unique.
“the record’s about looking at life a different way i suppose,” ponders brett, “looking at life as something that’s potentially ‘great!’ instead of troubled and confused.”
and the title? “for me it’s a symbol of a new start for the band. it isn’t suddenly a reggae record or a swing record or anything like that. it’s definitely a suede record. but it seems like there’s a sense of freshness injected into it. when we were making the record i was feeling very excited about life and hopefully some of that vitality has come across on the actual recording.”
so there you have it. suede are back, healthier (in every sense) and more vital than they’ve been for a long time. every band is obliged to say that their latest album is “the best yet” but in this case it’s a claim that’s hard to dispute. a new morning positively brims over with sparkling melody and impeccable musicianship. each track is a gem in its own right but more than any other suede record, the album sits together as a coherent body of work which justifies almost every outrageous claim made on their behalf over the last decade.
that “best new band in britain” piece described suede as “the most audacious, mysterious, sexy, absurd, perverse, glamorous, hilarious, honest, cocky, melodramatic, mesmerising band you’re ever likely to fall in love with.” ten years on it still stands true.
time to get excited. again.
source taken from http://www.suede.net/