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+ {Brett Anderson} + {The Tears}

A blend of BAUHAUS, BOWIE and The SMITHS, singer Brett Anderson and his SUEDE crew were the sophisticated glam side of the 90s Brit-pop scene. Together with co-songwriter/guitarist Bernard Butler, SUEDE’s first two albums stand out among the best of the genre; pity then that BB had to abandon the project for other musical inclinations.
One can trace the band’s roots all the way back to 1985 when son of a cabbie, Brett Anderson (then on guitar), school-chum Mat Osman (bass), Gareth Perry (vocals) and Danny Wilder (drums) instigated indie combo, Geoff. However, university studies left Brett and Mat in flux for a couple of semesters or so, but in 1988 the pair rallied back with the short-lived Suave & Elegant.
Inspired by MORRISSEY’s “Suedehead” single, and buoyed by newcomer Bernard Butler (who’d answered the pair’s NME ad), SUEDE were born. Rushing off a tape to DJ Gary Crowley’s GLR-funded “Demo Clash” radio show (they duly won the competition for a consecutive five Sundays!), a record contract at the Brighton-based RML imprint spurred on the trio to add Brett’s guitarist girlfriend at the time, Justine Frischmann. After a single, `Be My God’ / `Art’, failed to materialise in 1990 (this lost recording was famous for featuring ex-SMITHS drummer Mike Joyce), the band added drummer Simon Gilbert and rehearsed for most of ’91; Justine was to depart to form her own ELASTICA outfit.
SUEDE subsequently signed to indie outlet Nude Records, precipitating a storm of media hype and adulation in every movement they made. Featured on the cover of the NME before they’d even released any product, the quartet became press darlings of a post-grunge/pre-Brit pop music scene desperate for a bit of cheap glamour. Widely touted as spiritual antecedents of The SMITHS, the group were actually closer in style to the camp affectations of mid-period BOWIE, although there was definitely a MORRISSEY-like archness to the lyrics, the glum one actually taking to covering live `My Insatiable One’, a B-side from the band’s acclaimed Top 50 debut effort, `The Drowners’. Another couple of singles followed; `Metal Mickey’ and `Animal Nitrate’, both scoring successively higher chart positions. The media support, together with Anderson’s sleazy, androgynous posturing, made him and his band instant heroes for a new generation of crazy, mixed-up kids, while the eponymous SUEDE (1993) {*9} debut album quickly reached No.1.
Nude Record’s takeover by Sony in early that year gave the act a bit of major label muscle, ironically helping them on their way to becoming one of the biggest “indie” bands in Britain. Hit platter number four, `So Young’, and the likes of the deliciously sedate `Sleeping Pills’, `She’s Not Dead’, `Breakdown’ and `The Next Life’, tempered sonic-punk song, `Moving’.
At the beginning of ‘94, SUEDE secured their biggest hit single to date with the epic `Stay Together’, a lengthy non-album track that peaked at No.3. Later that spring, gay drummer Simon bravely went to the House of Commons to air his views on the homosexual laws of consent, which were to be lowered from 21 to either 16 (the heterosexual age) or 18 as it finally turned out.
Around the same time, more controversy dogged the group when a relatively unknown American jazz singer called Suede won her lawsuit against the band, the upshot of the affair being that from that point on, SUEDE were to be known in America as The London Suede. Meanwhile, the group had won the Mercury Music Prize for their acclaimed debut album and were well on the way to releasing a follow-up, DOG MAN STAR (1994) {*8}. The last album to feature the departing Butler (heralded by some as the UK’s most promising guitarist since The SMITHS’ Johnny Marr, BUTLER subsequently went on to a successful, if short lived, collaboration with DAVID McALMONT before signing to Creation and embarking on a solo career. With a canny resemblance to BAUHAUS’ “She’s In Parties” (and a cocktail of other tunes), `Heroine’ fitted sublimely among the single fare on show, namely `We Are The Pigs’, `The Wild Ones’ and `New Generation’. If one was missing BOWIE, then `The Power’ was one for Man Who Sold The World fans, all the riffs and “All The Madmen” in place without so much of a hint of plagiarism. The record marked something of a departure in SUEDE’s sound, a dense, ambitious set which met with a mixed critical reception.
Unbowed, they swaggered on, recruiting the teenage Richard Oakes as Bernard’s replacement and providing a welcome diversion from the laddish excesses of Brit-pop; keyboard player Neil Codling was also added. SUEDE’s next effort, COMING UP (1996) {*7} proved to be their most consistent set to date, spawning the brilliant low-life anthem, `Trash’, along with the similarly infectious, organic glam of `Filmstar’ (their fifth Top 10 entry from the set) and the dislocated melancholy of `Saturday Night’; `Beautiful Ones’ and `Lazy’ were the other hits.
`Electricity’ sparked off SUEDE’s return to the fore, the Top 5 single also the opening track on their No.1, Steve Osborne-produced 4th album proper, HEAD MUSIC (1999) {*6}. Three other retro-fied 45s (`She’s In Fashion’, `Everything Will Flow’ and `Can’t Get Enough’) were delivered to an eager kitsch fanbase who were still “into” all things glam:- BOWIE, ROXY, NUMAN, HUMAN LEAGUE…
A few years in the proverbial wilderness, Brett and his beloved SUEDE team returned to the scene in summer 2002 (with ex-STRANGELOVE/BLUE AEROPLANES drummer Alex Lee replacing Neil), releasing A NEW MORNING {*6}, a set that for once didn’t go straight to No.1; or even make the Top 10… or the Top 20! `Positivity’ and `Obsessions’ had a newfound, un-BOWIE sound, but things were getting desperate; a final single, the double-header `Attitude’ and `Golden Gun’, presaged a “best of” set in 2003.
The reunion of Butler and Anderson (as The TEARS) was one of the bigger stories in these times, one which few would’ve forecast with any confidence. Picking up where they left off after the bitter post-“Dog Man Star” recriminations, HERE COME THE TEARS (2005) {*7} was the opening salvo from a redeemed working relationship that became a going concern. Alongside Will Foster, Nathan Fisher and Makoto Sakamoto, Butler ‘n Anderson both sparked each other into life and acted as a check on the other’s excesses; BB took the production chair, crafting his own mannered take on Wall Of Sound glam-sonics and shaping the kind of chorus-ready singles that SUEDE fans hadn’t heard in years: the UK Top 10 grandeur of `Refugees’ and the infectious Top 30 hit, `Lovers’, effective without being ground-breaking.
BRETT ANDERSON’s long-time-coming solo outing was inevitable, his aching and heart-worn tunes (written with Fred Ball), surfacing on his eponymous debut, BRETT ANDERSON (2007) {*7}. Ballad-heavy beyond any of his SUEDE songs, the record and its lead-off single, `Love Is Dead’, didn’t sell in any great quantities. Having spent what seemed like a year promoting double-live sets and getting his new doomed-romantic message across to his loyal fanbase, Brett continued to find inner peace on 2008’s WILDERNESS {*6}. Two self-financed sets, SLOW ATTACK (2009) {*6} and BLACK RAINBOWS (2011) {*7} have since emerged, although it seemed his best days were behind him; SUEDE (without Butler) even reuniting for concerts in 2010/11, including a prestigious Royal Albert Hall booking 24th March 2010. Still, there with Anderson, was stalwart Mat Osman (brother of BBC-TV’s Pointless presenter Richard Osman).
SUEDE duly took another stab at reviving the glory days of Brit-pop via Top 10 return, BLOODSPORTS (2013) {*7}, a record that rekindled the quintet’s take on the anthemic, sweeping ballad. It’s hard to imagine operatic crooner Anderson middle-aged and sliding into slippers-and-pipe territory, and this album secured his position as classicist rocker, towering above his fractious glam-bam-thank-you-mam adversaries. Glowingly gleeful and gloomy in equal parts, Brett’s fellow scribes Richard Oakes and Neil Codling (plus Mat Osman and Simon Gilbert), steady the SUEDE ship to give fans old and new some jinky jewels in `Snowblind’, `It Starts And Ends With You’, `Sabotage’, `For The Strangers’ and `Faultlines’.
2016’s NIGHT THOUGHTS {*8} arrived at a sombre time for the world of rock/pop music as hero BOWIE had just died of cancer. In David’s wake there’d be a plethora of disciples to inherit his crown; none so worthy than Brett Anderson. A beautiful set of serene songs, SUEDE captured the essence of grandeur and “glum-rock”, while evoking echoes of past haunts or shouldering the shifts of time. Balanced between an interlocking concept and one of a passionate thematic principle, the near Top 5 record had many high, “Hunky Dory” points, from the opening orchestral-laden `When You Are Young’ and the single `Outsiders’, to the star-struck `I Don’t Know How To Reach You’, `Pale Snow’ and the tear-jerking `Tightrope’.
Subsequently switching producers from Ed Butler to veteran Alan Moulder, SUEDE explored other avenues for 2018’s THE BLUE HOUR {*8}; their first Top 5 prize in nearly two decades. Anderson’s PETER MURPHY romanticism traits were more accentuated on several songs (example the nigh-“She’s In Parties”-shaped `Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You’ and `Wasteland’), but that was the man’s grace and danger, whilst the desolate `Roadkill’ narrative shadowed the ghost of a “Diamond Dogs”-era BOWIE. Not a dud among the crescendo-induced tracks from opening salvo `As One’ to the decadent `Flytipping’, there was majesty and elegance on the wonderfully-taut `Mistress’, `Beyond The Outskirts’, `Cold Hands’, the cinematic `All The Wild Places’ and the heartfelt `Tides’. Never mind the BAUHAUS, here’s the dog man star’s bollocks.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012-Sep2018

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