Suede – Dog Man Star

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One of the best albums of ’94. And though Suede are known for kickstarting the genre, their sophomore album has barely anything to do with Britpop. It’s hooky, sure, and satirical too (“This Hollywood Life”), but unlike Britpop, it’s darker: songs deal with political strife (“Introducing the Band,” “We Are the Pigs”), the negatives of sex (“The Asphalt World”), drugs (“Heroine,” “The 2 of Us”), death (“Daddy’s Speeding”). 

Another difference is that while Suede’s contemporaries were more enamored with the 60s (Blur taking after the Kinks, Oasis taking after Oasis), Suede was busy absorbing the 70s. David Bowie’s the obvious influence; the opening track’s “I want the style of a woman, the kiss of a man” might as well have been David Bowie’s mission statement (and a helluva lot more subtle than the “we’re gay but not” cover of Suede’s debut album) (there’s also a rarity called “Eno’s Introducing the Band” around this time that has nothing to do with Eno, as far as I can tell). But elsewhere, the bridge of “Heroine” flashes funk, “The Wild Ones” opens with a Roxy Music lyric (I know, I know, “Oh Yeah” came out in ’80, but Roxy Music was a 70s band, so let this one slide), Bernard Butler’s guitar style in “The Asphalt World” recalls Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour’s calculated style (compare this to “Dogs” especially to see what I mean) and speaking of Pink Floyd, “We Are the Pigs” ends with a bit that recalls “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2.” 

Is it perfect? No. That aforementioned bit in “We Are the Pigs” is easily the band’s most pretentious moment, and I might’ve been a lot kinder to it had the band found some way to work it in the proper song instead of tacking it on as an outro. Elsewhere, there are some lesser tracks and Anderson knows it; in the liner notes of the 2011 reissue, Anderson suggests switching out some of the lesser tracks with b-sides that were available in the same era (again, unlike their contemporaries, Suede was the only Britpop band whose b-sides were worth a damn), replacing “The Power” for “My Dark Star” and “Black or Blue” with “The Living Dead.” “The Power” ain’t bad, but personally, grabbing the live, acoustic and French rendition “La Puissance” will save you three minutes’ time while “Black or Blue” is a lot of falsetto and little else. “My Dark Star” has a better hook and guitar workout than either while “The Living Dead” is harrowingly beautiful, from every line Brett Anderson drops (“Is the needle a much better screw?” hits hard), the “Heroin”-esque feedback that comes in at the 0:57 mark, to the climax where arpeggios turn into a full-guitar chug. And if you can find space for “Killing of a Flash Boy” (a lyrical predecessor to Coming Up‘s “Beautiful Ones”) and non-album single “Stay Together,” you’d have that much more of a better album on your hands.

Yeah, that’s enough dilly-dally; let’s talk about the proper album. “Introducing the Band” sets the tone of the album while demonstrating Brett Anderson at the highest point of his lyrical career, containing a bunch of quotables thanks to various literary devices, from the consonance in “So steal me a savage, subservient son” to the alliteration in “A fifty knuckle shuffle heavy metal machine” while piano textures and backing vocals (that sound like they’re chanting “Dying young”) come in during the back half. After that, we’re treated to songs with choruses catchier than anything on Coming Up (their supposedly catchiest album) buttressed by guitarwork from Bernard Butler that’s better than his contributions on Suede; make no mistake, this is easily the band’s best album. And though these songs are great (my favorite of the album’s pop/rock set is “Heroine,” thanks to Brett Anderson’s clever shifts from “heroine” to the obvious and “eighteen” to “aching”), the best songs on Dog Man Star are the band at their most ambitious: from closer “Still Life”’s bombastic orchestration to “Daddy’s Speeding” (which was easily my least favorite song on the album when I first heard it, but now ranks high up there) which is the album’s most harrowing track (there’s that word again); the sparseness of Brett Anderson’s vocals and a single one-note piano line, slowly building towards a climax that’s equal parts guitar solo and feedback before completely crashing. 

Then there’s “The 2 of Us” and “The Asphalt World.” The former begins like a basic but beautiful ballad, with a chorus that builds towards a full-blown theatrical falsetto, but then the coda comes in with exotic flavors (a bawu flute?!) before Anderson quietly intones “Alone but not lonely, you and me … alone but loaded,” suggesting that the entire song was an ode to drugs and not an actual romance. The best song on the album is also its longest: “The Asphalt World” is 9 minutes, with Anderson ranting about Justine Frishmann (of Elastica fame; she fucked and fucked over everyone in Britpop, it seems) who left him for a woman and as his words become sharper (“When you’re there in her arms / And there in her legs / Well I’ll be in her head / ’cause that’s where I go / And that’s what I do / And that’s how it feels when the sex turns cruel”), so too does Bernard Butler’s guitar, the extra space finally letting him cut loose. 

After this, they became nothing more than a sometimes-successful singles band; Bernard Butler left during the making of this album and Brett Anderson would never come up with a meaningful or clever couplet again in his life.

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One response to “Suede – Dog Man Star

  1. Pingback: 2016 Rock Round-Up: White Lung, Ty Segall, Suede | Free City Sounds·

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