Friday, 26 March 2010

I Wave My Bottom in Your General Direction

As a foot soldier in the early-nineties indie wars - before Dadrock took over Britpop in the same way Stalin took over East Berlin – I couldn’t help but have an interest in the news that skinny bum-slappers Suede have reformed (albeit in their post-Bernard Butler line-up). Ostensibly this was a one-off for the Teenage Cancer Trust but I think we all know how these things pan out if the reunion show goes well, which this one apparently did (see Alex Petridis’ Guardian review of their Albert Hall gig here).

Despite Brett Anderson’s undeniable occasional thumpability I always had a soft spot for Suede. Unconvinced by grunge I was quite taken with their nylon shirts, floppy fringes, fragile cheekbones and Quentin Crisp-posturing. I still vividly recall Brett’s first live mainstream self-flagellation with a microphone at the 1993 Brit Awards where Annie Lennox and Simply Red were the major winners.

Never quite what they should have been due to internal disintegrations I don’t think they ever made a truly classic album. Suede is half-filler and Brett’s voice a little too whiny, Dog Man Star has awesome ambition but even my tone-deaf ears know it’s really badly produced and ripe for a Let It Be-type reworking; and Coming Up was refreshingly POP! though a bit repetitive. Still they were a cracking singles band and their b-sides were pretty good too as the compilations
Singles and Sci-Fi Lullabies can attest.

Anyway, Petridis’ review reminded me of the obituary I wrote about Suede when they spilt in 2003 for a Sydney community radio indie show I used to co-host. Shameless recycling it may be, but for the 6,799,999,998 of you who didn’t hear it at the time here it is again…

It’s hard to imagine the importance of Suede’s appearance on the UK music scene at the arse end of 1992. At a time when indie style meant a choice between long sleeved t-shirts and short trousers or lumberjack shirts and faded jeans, the sight of Brett Anderson poncing around in his mum’s silk blouse, whipping his bottom with his microphone lead and saying “oh-ooooowww” every two minutes was quite refreshing.

Not only that, but they had Bernard Butler who helped Anderson fulfill his David Bowie fantasies by nicking all of the Spiders from Mars’ stompiest bits, feeding them through a Smiths tribute band machine and hammering out the results through a hundred guitar pedals.

For a while they were ace – they sang songs about car parks and maybe being gay, and cigarettes, and taxis, and tower blocks, and smoking, and dogs and pigs and heroin and smoking cigarettes in taxis… Brett appeared on the front cover of Select magazine in 1993 with a Union Jack backdrop with the anti-grunge headline ‘Yanks Go Home’ and, for better or worse, Britpop was born.

But then they released the sublimely ridiculous dark pomp-rock album Dog Man Star and Bernard walked out in a huff over the production. Rumours abounded that Brett was addicted to heroin and that maybe Simon the drummer didn’t like smoking and their next album was definitely gonna be dark and more importantly, crap.

To replace Bernard they brought in Richard Oakes, who was about 13½ and had to leave school to join the band. Even weirder they recruited Neil Codling, a man whose job seemed to be to sit behind a big keyboard looking bored and - bless - a bit tired whilst distracted girls and a few boys lusted after him.

And their next album wasn’t crap – 1996’s Coming Up was a pefect pop record of shimmering sexy, glittery and not-dark-at-all songs about, well, cigarettes and taxis and car parks, but also bangles and hair dye. Songs like Beautiful Ones, Lazy and Trash still bring out a spot of arse slapping in discos across the land.

In truth it’s been downhill since then – Headmusic and A New Morning had some good songs but by then Brett had a big belly, Codling had fallen asleep once too often and left and in a post Britpop world people just didn’t care enough about Suede anymore.

Except their fans. And there are lots of them. So, for those who shed a silent tear with the news of their split this week, or for anyone who has ever worn their mum’s blouse, slapped their own bottom, or indeed smoked a cigarette in a taxi outside a council estate – here’s Suede.…

That Brit Awards performance… note Phil Oakey fringe and charity shop blouse. Oh so 1993…

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