A question has been on my mind lately: why am I so excited for these Suede reissues? Since we don't have any of them to listen to yet, shall we examine this?
I have a complicated history with Suede. Initially I was not a fan. At all. Somewhere around 1993/1994, I was casually introduced to them by hearing "Animal Nitrate" and "The Wild Ones" on the radio - obviously the latter in 1994 as it hadn't been released in 1993, but I imagine I must have heard "Animal Nitrate" before then when I moved and was introduced to the wonderful world of alternative radio - and I was not impressed. I totally get it - they were all high drama and sweeping epics and theatrics and I, in my American guitar band interests, wanted none of it.
(Side note: you'd never know it now, but I was not a fan of the whole British guitar band/BritPop scene until long after the ship has sailed. Through friends and a better-than-average local radio station I was aware of it, but most of it passed by my radar with little interest. Those that I did latch on to - Radiohead with "Creep" and Catherine Wheel with "Crank" and, later, "Waydown" come to mind - were basically trying to be American bands anyways, so there you have it. It wasn't until the late 90's when everything had collapsed in on itself and bands were doing all they could to NOT sound like their previous selves that I went backwards into their discographies after becoming a fan of the album that lost them all their fans. Or something like that. Anyways, I didn't want some tart prancing around wailing about gay sex on poppers or whatever in 1993.)
I don't think I ever heard a note of 'Coming Up' while it was current. Probably for the best at the time, for what it's worth.
Then, somehow, I heard "Electricity" and, for whatever reason, it clicked. Hard. To this day, I still get a thrill when the song starts - on a recent trip to a Long Beach, California lesbian bar (I suppose the trip wasn't specifically to go to this bar but in our travels we ended up there), I got more excited than probably necessary when I was able to put $1 in the jukebox and blast "Electricity" louder than I had ever heard it before. It was a-mazing.
Again, sidetracked. I guess I heard it because I had recently become reacquainted with a primary school friend who had grown into a massive Suede fan and she made me listen to it. Anyways, the - ahem - power of the song overtook me and I fell in love with it. 'Head Music' followed and while it was - and is still - a bit of a mess, I liked it well enough and it was time to investigate the back catalog.
(Another side note: I first started talking to my friend Jason in Toronto on a mailing list as we discussed the merits - or lack thereof - of 'Head Music'. I was invited to his wedding last year. So say what you will about the album, it brings people together in its own way.)
Right, so the back catalog. As I went through it - the albums and plethora of singles, of course, if you're going to do it do it right - I was quickly able to see why I wouldn't have been into it the first time around and also how it would appeal to me then. However, I was still missing something - it didn't feel important enough, I suppose. All these people were telling me how 'Suede' changed their lives or how 'Dog Man Star' was the most amazing epic piece of music evar, but I just didn't get it. Sure, there were some brilliant songs scattered throughout the three previous albums and its singles, but I didn't feel the love. I chalked it up to "not being there at the time", but that doesn't sit well with me today - you can still find stories of a teenager today hearing 'Dog Man Star' for the first time plenty of years after its initial release and being blown away. I put it on and hear, mostly, a band trying too hard, but we'll get to that.
Anyways, so why are we here? This is why, I think: when Suede are at their best, they are pretty much the best. For me, their best is when they embrace what they truly are - a big, dumb pop band writing songs about gay sex on poppers (yes, I know) and rhyming "car" with "star" and "house" with "mouse" and "leotard" with "retard" (my personal favorite) and wanting to be lazy and all that. When they try to be more - THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. BAND. EVER! or, later, the most boring band ever - it sounds so forced to me and I can't take it seriously. I have good friends who can go on for hours about the majesty of the final four-song sequence of 'Dog Man Star' - oh, and we have, possibly with a little help from our friend vodka - but when it's on I can't help but hear how ridiculous and pompously overblown the whole thing is and I can't even deal.
So, here's the summary: as far as I'm concerned, Suede made one perfect album, a solid-if-too-long-for-its-own-good attempt at a rebirth album, a decent album that could have been a killer album with a different sequencing, an overblown mess that I have little to no time for (though it still has a few stunning moments), and one of the most boring albums ever. Perhaps, as has been shown can happen, the reevaluation these reissues will bring will further develop my opinion - I'm really curious if there's anything in 'A New Morning' to save it and will approach with as open a mind I can.
I will say that I have gained a new respect for Brett Anderson through all of this - he has emerged as Suede's biggest fan and, more importantly, is not looking at everything through rose-colored glasses. There was the risk of getting to the messier end of the discography and being force-fed the "well, this is what we were trying to do and obviously people just didn't get it" crap, but instead we got "we probably shouldn't have made this record but I can see why we did at the time". Well played, sir. The business end of things is forcing you to cater to overwhelming fan want at times - dedicating concerts to only the first three albums, for example - and compromise had to be struck to get the 'Dog Man Star' set together - "Asda Town" and the two "New Generation" b-sides being relegated to the 'Coming Up' set where they do. not. belong. at. all. I. don't. care. what. you. say. - but, as a whole, this reissue series and Suede rebirth has been pretty respectful.
For, you know, a band that I kind of don't care about. That's the power of Suede, I suppose - you love them even when you hate them.