Suede - Head Music
In as much as hearing the first single to be lifted from Coming Up was a shock, so it was on seeing the video for Electricity, the song that was issued as a single shortly before the release of Suede's fourth album, Head Music. This time, however, where Trash had just been heard on the radio and I still needed convincing that it was actually Suede, this time I could see the band on the video and knew that this really was the new single from the band despite so wishing it to be otherwise. Whilst not as lazy a single as Trash, there was a noticeable lack of effort to Electricity that, as with that earlier single, did not raise one's hopes as regards the album that would follow. However, as Coming Up was a better album that Trash had indicated, so Head Music proved to be a much better album than its opening track was a single.
Head Music was yet another change in Suede's sound, albeit one that moved further into pop trash than back to the melancholy drama of their debut and Dog Man Star. Where Coming Up flirted with electronica and vocal and guitar effects to give its pop thrills a more modern sound than the rock classicism of Dog Man Star, so Head Music gives itself over entirely to having Pro Tools pull it apart and resequence it with found sounds bubbling under every track. Therefore, whilst Electricity has a looping, complex riff, the rhythm track sounds far from being Simon Gilbert pounding on a set of drums whilst Mat Osman plays alongside him. Similarly, Can't Get Enough opens with a guitar that twists over a few notes before the song comes together but it's the obvious use of a distorted drum machine that gives the song an edge it would not otherwise have had.
However, as it ever was with Suede, there's an inability to see the point at which others would say they had gone far enough and as the clumsy and dog eared Elephant Man begins with a dull, pounding rhythm, so it is that Head Music's only really terrible song enters and, after a mercifully short running time, leaves unloved and uncared for, proving that, despite adulation from the fans, Neil Codling was a better co-writer than solo composer.
However, where one recognises Head Music as still being very much a Suede album is in the ballads being quite the best songs on the disc. As Dog Man Star ended in a glorious manner with The 2 Of Us, Black And Blue, The Asphalt World and Still Life and Coming Up featured the sublime By The Sea, Picnic By The Motorway and Saturday Night, so Head Music offers Everything Will Flow, Down and the unexpectedly good Indian Strings. Whilst the latter song features the kind of name given to songs whilst they exist in an unfinished and unconsidered state - Slow Song #2, Song Like Big Star, et al - it remains one of the better moments on Head Music with Anderson writing both words and music with such style that it is one of the few Suede songs from the years following Bernard Butler's departure capable of standing unembarrassed alongside Dog Man Star, which is not something that could be said about the ridiculous title track nor Elephant Man.
Elsewhere, Asbestos is as apt a Suede title as was the previous album's Picnic By The Motorway but with the album's final two songs - He's Gone and Crack In The Union Jack - Suede persist in their habit of finishing on a high but, as they've always done melancholy rather better than furious rock, this is to be welcomed. This latter song, in particular, is one of the better tracks recorded by the band and, other than the effects applied to Brett Anderson's voice, is a rough acoustic number that closes the album on a low feeling.
In fact, it is this sense of coming down after the rush of the previous album that defines Head Music. Where Coming Up was filled with upbeat glam pop, songs like He's Gone, Indian Strings and Everything Will Flow get closer to what one expect with Suede than diversions like Elephant Man and, similarly, it is the subtle electronica on these songs that has aged best. Where the effects on Electricity and Head Music, whilst quite appealing on first listen, do little on a third or fourth hearing, what has been added to the slow songs is so much less intrusive that they still hold up years later.
Head Music is, however, a better album than Coming Up and showed that Anderson, having written or co-written all but one of the songs, was developing into a fine songwriter. Having recently announced that Suede will not be recording together in the near future so to work instead on solo albums, what Anderson does not will undoubtedly be of the greatest interest to fans of the band.