Before Britpop became a grim cockney knees up, a pathetic class pantomime draped in a flag that polarised rather than unified, there was the spark that ignited it all, the caustic cousin that viewed the party they effectively began from in the shadowy corner with arch disdain. Before it all became so monosyllabic and mono-browed, before guitar music became something to soundtrack goals on Match of the Day, there was Suede.
Suede were a teenage delight wrapped in corduroy and smelling of patchouli. When the charts of 1992 were over run with moustached chancers pretending to be Ian Brown or greasy haired losers wishing they were Kurt Cobain, Suede crashed landed onto the scene like the alien that was David Bowie in the ’70’s. Whippet thin, they were fey, fringe flicking ambassadors of a certain style of sleaze. They demanded for a frenzy to be made of them. From the moment Brett Anderson applied microphone lead to arse cheek the scene for hysteria was set. From that followed the controversial videos depicting everything from cross dressing to middle aged swingers and the banned album cover featuring two wheelchair bound lesbians sharing an embrace, this stark sexuality was usually reserved for post watershed BBC films not blasted across The Chart Show of a Saturday morning. The ’90s had at last gone from bleak to freak.
They were the ‘other’; the dangerous hand outstretched offering a desolate literary city of their own creation. This urban landscape echoed the words of JG Ballard and Anthony Burgess, the films of Derek Jarman, the vicious photography of Corinne Day. It was an imagined world made up of abandoned tower blocks, multi-storey car parks housing romping couples, lonely side streets, smashed up windows, confused boys and tough girls with bruised lips and bony hips.
The first Suede album is the stale stench of cigarettes from the morning after, the upturned wine glass, the streaked mascara, it is drama turned up to ten. Yes, these dark bewitching sexually charged themes came from the words of Brett Anderson but the creation of this environment lies at the feet of Bernard Butler. Such was the ferocity and brutal force of his guitar playing which dominated every great Suede track it was as if he was the dual vocalist in the band. Butler snatched the guitar solo from its flabby elders and took the meat off its bones. The sinewy, scraggly solo that blitzes through ‘Metal Mickey’, the soaring, crisp punch of ‘Animal Nitrate’ are Butler’s breathtaking trademarks which he was to embellish on through the ambitious Dog Man Star, an album that tried to rebirth pomp but was sadly smothered at birth.
When the music world quickly moved on a mere two years later and was ready to revel in cheap beer and even cheaper musical escapades Suede’s second album appeared at the festivities like the creepy magician that no one had hired. It became Butler’s premature swansong, an epic feast of decay and paranoia that housed some of the finest work of the troublesome Butler/Anderson partnership not only the menacing, switchblade flicker of ‘We Are the Pigs’ and ‘This Hollywood Life’ but also the swoonsome balladry of ‘The Wild Ones’ and ‘The Two Of Us’.
It is then rather obvious that the bulk of this compilation would be made up of the first two Suede albums and B-sides. This was the Suede of ‘Top of the Pops’, of posters on bedroom walls, of impressions by Newman and Baddiel, this was the Suede who were important, the band at the peak of their powers.The mix of old and new jumbled together across 35 tracks is jarring and displays the weakness not only in poor Richard Oakes facsimile style but also the absence of force in Brett’s philosophy.
Where once he spoke grimly of ‘pylons high with suicides’ and ‘a nuclear wind to blow away his sins’ Suede Mark II got their thrills from ‘getting satellite, getting Sky, getting cable’ and of film stars ‘propping up the bar, driving in a car’, not Mr. Anderson at his most eloquent or inspiring. Although the ‘Coming Up’ and ‘Head Music’ years did offer up some gems in the form of the languid Roxyesque ‘She’s In Fashion’ and the dumb fun chug of ‘Trash’.
Stretching over a decade this greatest hits tries to capture the urgency and quicksilver energy of their brief time as the agent provocateurs of pop but for true incendiary thrills albums one and two are all you need to witness Suede in all their sordid glory.