The story of this record is hackneyed. Suede caught the zeitgeist but rode it for too long.
It started to go wrong with Girls and Boys. Damon Albarn's tirade against the hard-drinking, hard-living 90s youth inadvertently became the anthem of those it sought to parody and Britpop was dead in the water. This glorious renaissance of British music was stripped of its irony, detached from the seam of intelligent pop and limped on as dumbed-down trad rock to drink lager to.
It's therefore ironic that the album which nominally launched this much-vilified period exhibits such brilliance. When Suede arrived they like nothing else, a bullet from North London providing the perfect riposte to the grunge invasion. Out went dreary Nirvana stylings and post- 'Baggy' comedowns in favour of androgynous glam and soaring guitars. Suede is the sort of album that could only exist as a debut: these songs are the product of years of bedsit dreaming, written without knowing if they'd ever be recorded, created and refined without any outside pressure. The album inhabits a twilight world of music hall glitz and artful sleaze, lazily sliding in and out of songs, detailing and instability and abuse while gradually permeating into your psyche.
Opener So Young sets the tone and style: Bernard Butler's guitar is used sparingly but to devastating effect while sparring partner Brett Anderson allows his squall to run riot over lyrics celebrating youth, decadence and casual drug use. "So young and so gone..." he intones "...let's chase the dragon." Ah, that'll be the Animal Nitrate then? It escaped the censor's knife by being both hideously oblique and tinged with a dark, uncertain side. The lyrics are snapshots of life, mere snippets of the full story. What happened to the girl "locked in a car somewhere with exhaust in her hair?" We don't know and we doubt the band do. What she did achieve was an incredibly evocative wave of piano and guitars that overwhelm the listener while hearing her torturous tale.
There's a pitched battle taking the place between the Anderson and Butler camps, each constantly attempting to surpass the other with greater theatrics and greater effects. It's this tension that's responsible for the most thrilling moments: Brett's demand on The Drowners to "give me some fun" and the guitarist's deft reply suggest that, right here, right now, on this CD is about as good as it gets. As the track spirals out of control it's easy to see why the band were hyped at such an early stage; this is wilfully youthful and exuberant, a soundtrack to discovery and first touches as, all the while, a group of four scrawny, long haired poseurs rage in the background.
Every emotion is countered, each myth demolished. An exuberant Metal Mickey, replete with a snarling, overblown solo, is an uneasy neighbour to Sleeping Pill, a passing bell for the very innocence that the album celebrates. Many songs are less clear cut and for every hedonist's anthem there's the real life effect it had on the band. Every lyric enthralled to illicit thrills makes them sound exhilarating but in reality this infatuation almost killed the group. Their very public self destruction suggests that the band would be the death of them and to an extent this was right: things were never the same again. In Suede's case Pop really did eat itself.
The story of this record is hackneyed. Suede caught the zeitgeist but rode it for too long. After Bernard Butler left for a bland solo career, the group carried on to regular commercial and intermittent critical success before running out of steam. They never quite capitalised on this, their defining statement and their cod-glam descended into farce. The tackiness that made them endearing became nearer self-parody once the royalties began to roll in. For the fastest selling album ever its influence is hard to spot in the current crop of angular guitars and rave sirens. What they did was display a carefree attitude not seen in British music since the 1970s and revitalised the concept of the pop group image. They provided aspirations, something to believe in and regained the place for intelligent pop music in this land.
Words: James Waterson.