Suede: Catching Up with the Insatiable Ones

Posted by in Culture, Music, Record Cover Design

From Coal Black to Coming Up in Technicolour!

URBAN HYMNS

OK, I was never into Brit-pop and as previously stated the nineties left me pretty much cold in terms of musical development in our humble isles (the UK). Recently in my local library I spotted (front man) Brett Anderson’s biog Coal Black Mornings and from there wanted to go back and listen to the music.

An interesting pointer here is like U2, SUEDE were slow to adapt to colour, the first two albums sound like a grimy urban landscape in just about any hinterland town in the UK (Luton, Stevenage, Newport even).

Every artist has their favourite keys (or colours) and SUEDE initially went for browns, greys and a mid-blue. Hence I never really got them until their third album Coming Up in post grad ’96.

Trash to Trash

FROM TRASH

I always said that going from Dog Man Star to Coming Up was a bit like going from For Your Pleasure to Manifesto. And could it be a coincidence that lead single Trash had the same name as Roxy Music’s 1979 single and ever so slightly resembled it? SUEDE however didn’t require the services of Brian Eno to give them technicolour the way U2 did.

Interesting pointer 2 is the bands DNA. In the same way that Duran Duran are an unusual mix of the Sex Pistols, Roxy Music and Chic, so SUEDE are an oddity in that they marry the indie flavours of The Smiths with the glam of David Bowie and Marc Bolan.

In the early nineties the music press loved them and I wondered had ICEHOUSE been British would they have been so embraced by the music media here? Bowie embraced both.

They have the enviable knack of taking the rather pathetic fumble of a quick fuck under the pier and extracting those few golden moments that many years later convince oneself that, for one brief flickering moment, one was as inspired as Romeo or, in some cases, Juliet. The poor things are bound to be an institution by the year 2000. Dame Brett, anybody?”

David Bowie, Select November 1996

IS THERE LOVE INSIDE THE SUEDE-HOUSE?

Following that train of thought I sought Google to answer a question: Is Brett (or indeed the rest of SUEDE) a fan of Iva Davies or his more famous moniker? But my question drew a blank. There is a Twitter handle for Mr Anderson on the official SUEDE website so maybe I should ask directly. *These are most likely run by management.

I do know that Iva Davies rates Bernard Butler highly (Butler himself born the same day – May 1 – as one of my guitar faves Steve Farris of Mr Mister). And I could see Iva being a fan of SUEDE what with their common interests.

But I’m not sure if ICEHOUSE might be a bit too polished or poppy for the ‘cool’ rugged alternative indie rock of Brett Anderson’s men. That said should Brett be tuning in here then here’s a selection that might ‘do it’ for him.

The strange and beautiful ones

Lucky Me (from Measure for Measure)
Baby, You’re So Strange (from Measure for Measure)
Satellite (from Big Wheel)
Cadillac (from Big Wheel)
Sam the Man (from Big Wheel)
Stolen Guitar (from Big Wheel)

VIDEOTAPE

But Bowie, Bolan and Roxy are not the only similarities. While watching the SUEDE videos; check out Brett’s glance as he enters the frame on the Beautiful Ones video.

Now watch Iva Davies almost identical glance as he does the same on the Cross the Border video. These both occur in the first moments so you don’t have to watch the whole video (unless you wanted to of course). But either way, it’s a tad spooky!

How about band-brand and identity? Both have more or less stuck to the same logo’s over the years (though ICEHOUSE detoured for Sidewalk and Measure for Measure as discussed on the Crossing Borders blog).

And then there’s the band name itself; Flowers forced to change to ICEHOUSE and SUEDE to The London Suede (in the States). Not surprisingly Brett was and possibly still is miffed about it. The name change certainly went in Iva Davies favour. 

Ticketmaster UK

Chart wise SUEDE’s biggest market outside Britain is Ireland and Scandinavian territories (much like the Manic Street Preachers). ICEHOUSE it could be argued, in terms of chart and population, are actually bigger in New Zealand than their native Australia.

SUEDE singles Lazy and Filmstar notched up the hits at home both hitting #9. But almost as important was they came with more great artwork by Brett with design legend Peter Saville and Nick Knight.

On the Insatiable Ones DVD is a conversation between Brett and Peter which unfortunately I was unable to see for this blog. Saville says he approached the role as Art Director with Brett in place as Exec creative director as Saville felt he knew his generation better. Saville further embellished his role as to bring to life the sleeve Brett had in mind.

Electric blue music for your head!

SHE’S IN FA-FA-FA-FA-FASHION

Meanwhile the closest I got to buying a SUEDE album was 1999’s HEAD MUSIC – an album made at an apparently difficult time for Brett who was lucky not to spiral into a drug imbued oblivion. That year I moved to London and remember She’s in Fashion floating around the radio that summer as I swung from one miserable temp job to the next.

Fashion still serves as one of SUEDE’s most poppy moments but for some reason – probably rent fears – I didn’t manage to grab it at the time. I did however get hold of Electricity (not literally that would just be crazy).

But how downbeat the stale air was a few years later when its follow up A New Morning appeared. There was indeed a crack in the union jack with SUEDE limping or at best on auto-pilot. Cue split and solo work from Captain Anderson as well as a reunion with Butler for The Tears.

Slow emotion replay for the solo Suedehead.

SEMI-SCANDINAVIAN

No slouch, Brett released four albums in as many years beginning with a self titled record in 2007. This has an unusually plain looking cover considering SUEDE’s full on colour blitz between 1996-99.

It’s also during the downtime that Brett guests with mysterious Swedish chanteuse Stina Nordenstam on Keen Yellow Planet and Trainsurfing (2002) and then with Norwegian band Pleasure on their song Back to You (2006). He also sings support on Eskimo Kiss on the same album. ‘Planet’ and the Pleasure track feature whimsical Scandinavian visuals.

Wilderness in 2008 followed by the brilliantly titled Slow Attack – here is where the artwork begins to resurface and Black Rainbows in 2011. The artwork of which has a more arty/dandy look to it. Then suddenly in 2013 it was time to rekindle the day job.

Heavy hittin’ for Bloodsports

SUE-SUE-SUEDIO (SUEDE IN THE STUDIO – BUT NOT THAT STUDIO)

The band reconvened with Blood Sports… then based in China and working in a design studio I asked my Chinese colleague if it was SUEDE he was playing (there was always music on when we worked). He looked closer at the playlist on his computer before announcing ‘err.. sue dee.’

Not wanting to insult or humiliate him – remember the cult of loss of face in the Orient is huge – I let off a modest scoff and said it was pronounced ‘swayed’ which might still have humbled him, oops. None of the singles from this or subsequent releases have charted anywhere but the albums have done ok. 

Barriers tribal trot is a good start and Snowblind stamps its cock and bull swagger on the sound canvas but the SUEDE of yore are here; indie-rock, much of it colourless. An exception is It Starts and Ends With You but the music drowns out Brett’s voice.

For the Strangers and Hit Me are unusually bright but not entirely well, hitting me. Some nice la la la’s in the latter though. One of the strongest is also the shortest, and that is What Are You Not Telling Me? A heart felt ballad drenched in reverb.

Lazy film stars.

REAL TO REAL CACOPHONY

Fast forward to the now of misty white mornings (as opposed to coal black) and here’s what I got from running through a brief selection of SUEDE hits from their official You Tube channel.

I still preferred their Coming Up and Head Music material over their earlier work though Animal Nitrate was ok. Beautiful Ones I still liked having had the cassette single back in the day and Electricity, She’s in Fashion, Film Star and Can’t Get Enough still deliver the cool factor. 

SUEDE are unique also in that while they’ve developed they haven’t lost sight of their early indie alternative edge or cool when most bands commercialise over a couple of albums – ICEHOUSE included. SUEDE have never gone the pop/rock twinkly synths route.

They have never done a Mr Big or Spanish Gold or god forbid an Electric Blue, My Obsession or Harbour Town. Not that I mind some of those, but some are definitely guilty pleasures.

Nocturnal sightseeing according to SUEDE.

VISIONS OF THE NIGHT

So to Night Thoughts; their first cinematic offering. Unfortunately after the promising strings, the curtains open to another grey urban grime of When You Are Young. After a minute and a half it just becomes SUEDE. The most defining feature other than the strings is Brett’s falsetto. Second track Outsiders is better but overall they really don’t know how to reach me.

As with Bloodsports the strongest come in the last trilogy of tracks. I Can’t Give Her What She Wants is the redeemer. String laden When You Were Young is also neat. The Fur and The Feathers is an apt closer with some deft touches like the recurring ‘away’ from the previous track which runs into ‘Feathers.’

More electric blue conjuring up images of a life golden.

ELECTRIC BLUE

BLUE HOUR sounds like Peter Murphy’s Dust in places especially on curtain riser As One which is described as the devil taking over the world, and Chalk Circles. Roadkill is a spoken word piece with strings like Everything Will Flow around 1:25 and again similar in its drama to Murphy’s Dust.

Very alternative and filmic, orchestral but sometimes this drowns out his vocal. Brett is a much more accomplished singer now than ever. The very personal Life is Golden is really nice – as bright blue as the album cover so it’s a pity the single and video are draped in white. The visuals shot near Chernobyl. 

In their downtime the darkly cinematic nature of Night Thoughts and Blue Hour bleed into Mat Osman’s mystery thriller The Ruins, his debut as author released in the sunset of our former lives (in other words just before lockdown). Still in the Surrey idyll, I am still waiting to read Brett’s sophomore effort Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
Trash (from Manifesto) – Roxy Music
Trash (from Coming Up) – SUEDE
Beautiful Ones (from Coming Up) – SUEDE
Cross the Border (from Measure for Measure) – ICEHOUSE
She’s in Fashion (from Head Music) – SUEDE
Can’t Get Enough (from Head Music) – SUEDE
Electricity (from Head Music) – SUEDE
Filmstar (from Coming Up) – SUEDE
Trainsurfing (from This is Stina Nordenstam) – Stina Nordenstam ft Brett Anderson
Back to You (from Pleasure 2) – Pleasure ft Brett Anderson
The Hunted (from Slow Attack) – Brett Anderson
Pretty Widows (from Slow Attack) – Brett Anderson
The Swans – (from Slow Attack) – Brett Anderson
Crash About to Happen (from Black Rainbows) – Brett Anderson
This Must Be Where it Ends (from Black Rainbows) – Brett Anderson
In The House of Numbers (from Black Rainbows) – Brett Anderson
Barriers (from Bloodsports) – SUEDE
I Can’t Give Her What She Wants (from Night Thoughts) – SUEDE
Things to Remember (from Dust) – Peter Murphy
Just For Love (from Dust) – Peter Murphy
As One (from The Blue Hour) – SUEDE
Chalk Circles (from The Blue Hour) – SUEDE
Life is Golden (from The Blue Hour) – SUEDE

Catching up with the insatiable ones

BOOKS
Love and Poison  – David Barnett
*reissued in 2013 as The Biography
Coal Black Mornings – Brett Anderson
Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn – Brett Anderson

DVD
Insatiable Ones

Photo Credits: Discogs except Love and Poison, from Amazon and Insatiable Ones from Disarm Magazine.