Suede - Coming Up
There was moment on hearing the first single to be taken from this album, Trash, that you'll think, "They're not serious, are they?" Rarely has any band arrested their development as quickly as Suede did on allowing Bernard Butler to leave/throwing him out before the release of Dog Man Star. Given that their previous album ended with the soaring Still Life, for Coming Up to begin with a tired riff enlivened only by it passing the guitar through a distortion pedal was an insult to those of us who had followed the band from the release of The Drowners. Even the title sounded like it had come from the years before even Suede had been released, with it being such a cliched Suede title that you had to check the sleeve before being entirely sure that it wasn't the product of Suedette, a previously unknown tribute band.
When Bernard Butler and the rest of Suede parted company, it was a bigger blow to this reviewer than Johnny Marr leaving The Smiths. The manner in which Suede's songwriting developed between Suede and Dog Man Star had been so dazzling that not even the growth between The Smiths and Meat Is Murder could compare and when Richard Oakes, great guitarist thought he was, came into the band, those first b-sides in support of New Generation - Together and Bentswood Boys - gave the first indication that when Suede formally returned with a new album, it would be as a bleached-out version of the band that had grown during the Butler years. What was even more disappointing on first hearing Coming Up was that, given the ten songs that Suede had to choose from, they decided to lead with the most appalling song the band had yet recorded. Looking down the track listing, anything would have been better than the song they chose as the first single but on a cursory first listen, it became obvious that with Coming Up, not only were we now far from Dog Man Star but we were also far from Suede and the clutch of wonderful Anderson/Butler b-sides that had accompanied every single up to and including The Wild Ones.
Yet Coming Up does have a few great songs on it once the listener gets beyond Trash. Anderson had intended the album as a quick burst of pop songs to play whilst getting ready during the early evening hours before heading out for the night and in this, Coming Up works so much better than treating it with the seriousness given to Dog Man Star. If both their earlier albums, as the reviews earlier this week attested, were collections of songs to be played whilst climbing into bed, so Coming Up has the strut of crossing busy city streets and no one song is better for that feeling than Filmstar. Opening with a moment of thick drumming from Simon Gilbert, Filmstar springs to life with a trashy riff from Richard Oakes that lives up to Anderson's promise for the album. With great lyrics celebrating such actors as Terrence Stamp - all E-Type Jags, champagne and a mini-skirted Jean Shrimpton in the passenger seat, "an elegant sir in a terylene shirt", indeed - Filmstar is a fantastic song, as is the wailing She, which loses none of its sharp charm despite a line like, "She, "injecting marijuana"", pronounced marge-gee-wana, and the later Starcrazy. What makes these two songs work are their nastiness, their sneering but with a certain admiration for their subjects despite wanting never to get too close, unlike the manner in which Trash and Lazy attempt to ingratiate themselves amongst those they have been written about.
Underlying the pop thrills of the album are two wonderful ballads - By The Sea and Picnic By The Motorway. By The Sea has a melody that is wonderfully heartbreaking and sees Richard Oakes getting close to what made Pantomime Horse on the debut album so special. Incidentally, despite being frequently critical of Brett Anderson's lyrics, even this reviewer has to acknowledge the wonderful writing that goes into making, "...said our good-byes to the bank / left Seven Sisters for a room in a seaside shack" such a memorable couplet. Only ever so slightly poorer, however, is Picnic By The Motorway, which, despite having a title that could not be any-more-Suede unless it was titled Sex In The Underpass, is superb, with such rich musical backing that no matter the lyrics, this song could not have been ruined. Being Suede, there is the sense that whilst Anderson sings, "Hey, such a lovely day", he is thinking this whilst sitting in an Austin Allegro with his parents on the hard shoulder of the M1 eating meat paste sandwiches whilst the rain pours down outside. Rounding off the album are the clumsy The Chemistry Between Us and Saturday Night, which, if Anderson is correct, is the song that gets turned off before it ends as the lights are switched off and the taxi into town pulls up outside.
If there's any one fault that can be attributed to Coming Up, it's that Richard Oakes writes like a fan and, in lacking Bernard Butler's presence, often lets Brett Anderson away with his worst excesses and cliches. Where Butler grumbled to the press about Anderson's lyrics, Oakes is clearly unable to bring Anderson back in but, in being so young when writing this album, it's difficult to blame him when the singer ought to have known better by now. You suspect that lyrics like, "Class A, Class B, is that the only chemistry between us?" would never have made it onto either Suede or Dog Man Star, though nor would the ridiculous affection adopted by Anderson on Starcrazy, which has him singing like Phil Cornwell's impersonation of the cornershop-owning Mick Jagger from Stella Street.
As with Dog Man Star, which ought not to have worked given the in-studio fighting and melodrama but did to stunning effect, so Coming Up gets it together despite the dull writing of Trash and Lazy. Whilst never as good as either their debut or Dog Man Star, Coming Up is much better than the first single from it would have indicated and lives up to Anderson's promise of a pop album to be played before going it. Suede fans who were disappointed by this, however, would have to wait for the next release, Head Music, before the recording of a set of Anderson/Oakes/Codling songs as good as those written by Anderson/Butler during the band's first year.