Suede - Sci-Fi Lullabies
There are few types of albums more despised than the contract-filling live album except, that is, the collection of b-sides - an albums's worth of songs not deemed good enough to make it even as filler on albums. Of course, a few acts get it right with The Smiths, for example, seemed incapable of recording a mediocre song with one of their best - How Soon Is Now? - originally issued as the b-side to William, It Was Really Nothing. Suede, at least in their stellar and incendiary first couple of years were much the same. Indeed, a few of their B-sides garnered almost as much attention as those on the opposite side of the discs with Morrissey creating headlines when he included My Insatiable One, the B-side to Suede's debut single, The Drowners, only a week after its release.
Therefore, when Suede announced the release of Sci-Fi Lullabies, a collection of B-sides taken from the singles released alongside their first three albums - Suede, Dog Man Star and Coming Up - it appeared that it would be just as essential. And so, when this exquisitely packaged album was released including a stunning cover shot of a downed and bullet-ridden jet fighter taken by John Kippen, Sci-Fi Lullabies became the fourth great album from Suede and with twenty-seven songs taken from The Drowners to Filmstar, a remarkable record of how the band's sound adapted to the loss of a hugely talented founder member and the entry of a fan as his replacement.
Opening tracks My Insatiable One and the driving To The Birds, both of which were taken from The Drowners, are wonderful examples of Suede's early sound, being raw, visceral songs with lyrics that gaze at the stars from the window of an inner-city highrise. From there, the songs just get better with a daring far beyond the A-sides they accompanied. So, in backing the glam rock of Metal Mickey, Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson delivered the graceful Where The Pigs Don't Fly and the twisting He's Dead, which Butler skews from distortion and a riff that spirals up the fretboard into raw feedback. The two songs that backed Stay Together have already been written about this week but it is still worth saying that The Living End and My Dark Star are as wonderful as any of Suede's singles and help make the EP from where they originated an essential purchase.
By the time Butler had gone through Suede, Stay Together and Dog Man Star, the B-sides were now being written to stand alongside the very best songs on the albums and few were better than the second track on the single release of We Are The Pigs - Killing Of A Flash Boy. By now, Suede were associated with drugs, sex and cheap thrills but Killing Of A Flash Boy turns this reputation around, showing how the empty flash of city life is dominated not by androgynous and teenagers buy by thugs whose interests are less nightclubbing, heroin and red wine than they are pubs, Stella and sex wherever and whenever it's either presented or there to be taken. As such, Killing Of A Flash Boy is all furiously glam thrills from Butler alongside words that are spat out by Anderson, featuring such choice Brit-slang as, "that shitter with the pout won't be puttin' it about no more", said so ripely as to recall Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday. The other B-side from this release - Whipsnade - is filled with winter chills and a chorus that loses itself in the lies told to otherwise optimistic youth.
Sadly, however, with his interest in the band waning, the last Bernard Butler song to be released - Modern Boys, B-side to The Wild Ones - is disappointing and much closer to the pop he moved ever closer to with McAlmont & Butler, particularly Yes. By then, Butler was gone and in his place came Richard Oakes to co-write two of the last tracks on Disc One, with the final song an Anderson/Osman composition. Backing New Generation were Together and Bentswood Boys and it was easy to see why, at that point, it looked as though Butler wouldn't be missed so strong are the similarities between Oakes' writing/playing and Butler's. Putting aside a preference between the two, Together is as good as anything else on Disc One, whilst Europe Is Our Playground is the match of the Butler/Anderson The Big Time, which was the B-side to Animal Nitrate.
Disc Two, which covers the five singles that were taken from Coming Up is, however, entirely different from the often beautiful and always wonderful songs from the earlier years. Despite beginning well with Have You Ever Been This Low? and Another No One, both of which are better than Trash, the A-Side they accompanied, the second disc soon gets lost with dull and lifeless songs such as Young Men, which features the worst lyrics ever written by Anderson including, "Tony only reads Asian Babes / Danny's doing doves down the raves." After that, despite retaining the songwriting partnership of Brett Anderson and Richard Oakes, the songs do eventually take on the sound of what they are - B-sides - and Sci-Fi Lullabies suffers accordingly. By the end, as on songs like Jumble Sale Mums, Sadie and Duchess, it often sounds as though Brett Anderson is singing an entirely different song to the one played by the rest of the band and after such a storming start, Sci-Fi Lullabies limps to a rather ordinary end.
Such songs are not the best way to remember Suede and, in the years of owning this album, the second disc has rarely been played but the first...the first disc finds itself in the hi-fi just as frequently as Coming Up, Head Music or A New Morning. Instead, think of Sci-Fi Lullabies as containing an extra Suede album from the Butler/Anderson days given that the first eleven songs here constitute fifty-three minutes of music that is easily the match of Suede, if not Dog Man Star. Remember Suede from those songs and not the obvious filler of the second disc and you'll remember the band for whom the release of every single was an event and, on hearing the A-sides on the album and the B-sides on the first disc here, you'll see how right that was.