After years of not being able to articulate what exactly it is that bothers me about 'Dog Man Star', it hit me this morning: it takes too long to say what it has to say and, in the process, dilutes its effectiveness.
"But that's the point!", you cry. "It's not the relatively simple pop album the debut was, it's supposed to be big and epic and long and full and all those generally-accepted signs of a 'masterpiece'." Fair enough - but the band, while very talented and full of potentially good ideas, aren't able to pull it off.
The problems start right at the beginning. At its core, "Introducing The Band" is a complete non-song, and dressing it up as a Middle Eastern-inspired tone poem does it no favors, especially since the band clearly as little-to-no experience with or adeptness at said style. Instead of making the listener perk up from the get-go and say: "here is the start of something different and great", it causes me to perk up and say: "good lord, this is ridiculous in all the wrong ways." Remember, Suede are at their best when they're ridiculous - it's what makes their best songs so great, right? - but there's a good and a bad ridiculous and this nonsense is firmly in the bad camp.
It starts the proceedings off on the totally wrong foot and it takes the album a bit to recover. I used to think I did not like "We Are The Pigs" - empty chest-puffing and fake hardness! - but it's actually that I don't like "We Are The Pigs" in context. It's like a sponge, I guess, absorbing everything around it. On it's own, it's actually a pretty snappy little single - a bit of a rougher "So Young", if you will. So, score one for the re-examination.
Finally, things get truly started with the one/two/three punch of "Heroine", "The Wild Ones and "Daddy's Speeding". The latter is the only moment on the entire album where I feel the band steps outside of their comfort zone and is able to pull it off. It sounds like the aftermath of a car crash, daring you to keep listening even though you know something awful has happened. I have no idea how they pulled it off when they screwed everything else up so badly, but well played.
"The Power" is a nice palette-cleanser but is a bit fluffy and very out of place on the album. Seeing that it's the only one that wasn't totally completed with Bernard, I have no problem nixing it. It would have made a lovely non-album single, bridging the gap a bit between Suedes MK1 and MK2, but it wasn't to be.
"New Generation" and "This Hollywood Life" are fantastic stormers that I've always liked, so yay. Then they fuck it all up again with the brick wall of the album, the point I was almost never able to make it past before. First you've got "The 2 Of Us", which could be beautiful except it goes on for way. too. long. Bernard may be a whiz with the guitar but he's - at best - a passable keyboardist so we don't need him banging out basic chords while Brett repeats the same three lines over and over for five minutes. There's a nice break in the song about 2/3 of the way through that would have made a fine stopping point, but again they pushed it too far and ruined it. Way to go. If you can make it through that, you've got "Black Or Blue" to contend with, which is just awful. Again, Brett is a fine vocalist but it's not like he has the greatest voice in the world, so we don't need him pretending he's auditioning for the lead it some opera, singing in a clearly uncomfortable falsetto and trying to hit every note ever discovered all at once. Ugh.
Finally, you're rewarded with something listenable. "The Asphalt World" was hidden from me for years because I could never make it to it. My listening method with these reissues so far has been to tackle the bonus disc first, to give me a little insight behind the albums before I approach them again, and this one on its own was a revelation. While I think "The Wild Ones" is my favorite on the album, I can actually agree with people for once and say that this is the cornerstone.
Of course, they then botch the ending with "Still Life", itself a fantastic song once you strip away the zillion piece orchestra auditioning to score the next blockbuster. On the bonus disc there's an instrumental/orchestral version that works fine as a piece of incidental music - or, perhaps, soundtracking man's exploration into space or something - but as the overblown finale at a patchy attempt at greatness it's just another miss.
Clearly I still don't find this album to be the masterpiece everyone says it is. I don't understand how you can look past all of its glaring faults and find greatness. The band had it in them - there are flashes here just as there were flashes in the first album material - but their reach far exceeds their grasp and they fall flat on their face just as much as they succeed, if not more often.
As far as bonus material, the set delivers a lot but not nearly as much of interest as the first set. (I imagine my view of the album clouds my judgment on that, but there you have it.) There are 5 demos on the main disc, all of which are worth a listen but I doubt you'll find yourself returning to. (Fun fact: some of the original lyrics to "Introducing The Band" were recycled for "WSD".) Disc two - which is actually full this time, so that's nice - collects "Stay Together" and its b-sides as well as five additional b-sides from the album's singles. A few gripes - "Stay Together" is advertised as being the "long version" but is inexplicably has the last minute totally chopped off. (The true full length version would have fit.) Also, did "Eno's Introducing The Band" really need to be included? Yes, it's part of the story and a track that was released, but surely it falls under the "not a full band recording" line that was used to explain the omissions of "Digging A Hole" and "Weight Of The World" on the 'Coming Up' and 'Head Music' sets. That's 16 minutes of bonus disc that could have been put to better use. Finally, the moving of "Asda Town" and the two "New Generation" b-sides to the 'Coming Up' disc to preserve the original band line-up on the set is just nonsense - it's totally rewriting history and does not give the full overview of the album these sets are attempting to give. It was explained as an imperfect solution but that's a total cop-out - they belong here, not with 'Coming Up'.
Following those we've got six additional bonus tracks, ranging from slight - the barely one-minute long French version of "The Power" and the aforementioned orchestral version of "Still Life" - to genuinely interesting - a true outtake in "We Believe In Showbiz" - to the two pieces that have hardcores salivating: original unedited versions of "The Wild Ones" and "The Asphalt World". (Except Brett has said that "The Asphalt World" was edited down from 18 minutes of rehearsal tapes, so the naming is a bit deceptive.)
On the DVD, we've got the much maligned "Stay Together" video (I don't get the big deal, it's clearly better than some of the first album videos), the 'Dog Man Star' tour films (they claimed they were previously unreleased on DVD but weren't they an extra on the 'Introducing The Band' DVD?), plus a pair of fan-shot bootleg videos. The first comes from a show at the end of the first-album tour and features early versions of "This Hollywood Life", "We Are The Pigs", "New Generation" and set-closer "Stay Together". Like the video on the first set, there are cuts between songs and the audio is not great, and in this one you can tell that songs are clearly cut as you get the last 10 seconds or so of "She's Not Dead" before they begin "So Young". Perhaps the footage was unusable? A little clarification would have been nice. The other set is a four-song acoustic in store from earlier the same day - the highlight of which is Brett getting visibly pissed off and screaming at the crowd to "FUCK OFF!" to constant requests for "I Want Your Sex". Fantastic.
It's often wondered what could have been if the band had been able to hold it together and the Anderson/Butler partnership had expanded past these two albums, but I've never once cared: if they had, it's very doubtful we would have ever gotten their true masterpiece, which is coming up next. (HA!)