Listening to Suede's debut album now reminds you just how potent a mix of spilt blood, semen and alcohol can be. Written in the spiritually empty spaces of suburbia, Suede is destined to be replayed at sunset in the towns that spill out of the edges of cities as night creeps in but instead of being the soundtrack to parties and nights out in clubland, Suede is the sound of couples turning out the lights, climbing in under the duvet in an otherwise damp room and imagining what's going on outside.
Despite the first-person point of view, Suede never gives the sense that Brett Anderson sings from personal experience. It's telling that one of Anderson's most famous sayings is of him being a bisexual who's never had a homosexual experience, being so like Bowie in giving such good copy. Instead, Suede is like the view from the back of a black taxi, always looking in on the lives of others but never really getting close enough to feel anything.
The album opens with the sound of So Young and, in that one song, Suede summarise their entire career in a little over three and a half minutes. Beginning with the sharp treble and thick distortion of a Gibson guitar combined with a Fender amplifier, So Young mixes guitar rock, a tender piano that drifts in on the bridge and a lyric that spins youth, sex and drugs into a declaration of what it means to hold off the years. As Bernard Anderson sings, "Because we're young...let's chase the dragon", he ties almost all of what Suede ever meant into those seven words and even Bernard Butler's guitar playing is indicative of how Suede would develop, mixing shrill arpeggios and thumping bass riffs in such a way that, despite never being particularly influential, he sounds to be piling up a bunch of great guitar moments into each song.
As the song slows and staggers to an end, So Young loses itself in Butler's playing and the recklessness of youthful experimentation before fading to allow Animal Nitrate's thick guitar to enter. Once again, note how Suede's main themes appear once again with the casual drugs reference tied on to the referencing of man as a beast, particularly where sex is concerned. Better yet for collectors of mentions of life in the slums, Animal Nitrate ties drugs, sex and council houses into a short tale of breaking up and being left alone. The third song, She's Not Dead, contains one of the best couplets from any Suede song - "...they found his made up name, on her ankle chain" - and places it alongside a heartbreakingly slow ballad, much like the later Pantomime Horse.
Suede does include the two big singles - The Drowners and Metal Mickey - both of which are impossible to listen to without seeing that early-Suede look of fringes, man-made fibres and outrageously patterned clothes, although the two are poles apart. The Drowners opens with the swing of glam rock, whereas Metal Mickey furiously tears up a Butler riff with Anderson's singing of, "Oh Dad, she's driving me mad", but what both had in common was a sense of being hugely exciting as though, back in 1993, something genuinely exciting was happening in British music for the first time since The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays tripped through Top Of The Pops in 1989.
Best of all, however, is Breakdown in which, by avoiding using the yelp with which he is most associated, Brett Anderson sounds almost relaxed and offers some of his best writing, despite the final words, "...does he only come in a Volvo?" Butler's playing, however, is sublime and rarely bettered on this album, particularly the song's opening chord, the first bar of the chorus and, at 1m18s, the guitar melody that goes from swaying riff to chiming arpeggio in less than two seconds. Butler has a confidence in his writing and playing that would only be bettered by the follow-up to this album, Dog Man Star.
On listening to this album again, there's very little surprise in remembering how the rock press, the public and the Mercury Music Prize panel all fell in love with it. For, despite the strange decision-making of the latter in recent years, you suspect that, with Suede, the Mercury Music Prize did grasp what was vital about popular music in 1993. Anderson may grate occasionally, and it's likely that those who feel indifferent to the band will blame his cockney affectations for how they feel rather than Bernard Butler's writing of the music, but Suede is a glorious and exhilarating recording about how good it can feel to be young and casually drifting from hit to relationship to one night stand to coming down, either for real or only imagined.
Outside, as the rain pours down, Suede is the album that ought to be playing on your bedside stereo as you turn over, tell your girlfriend to switch off the light and listen to the party down the street. Dog Man Star would later say all that and more but in 1993, there was little music released that was more thrilling than this - a wonderful record.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 14:50:49