Thursday, February 10, 2022

Suede, Dog Man Star (1994)

So I just gave this a listen for the first time in a while.  I really loved this record when I was in college, and I wanted to see how it held up.  The verdict: GOOD LORD, does it ever.  One might have worried that the kind of tortured adolescent romanticism of a lot of it would seem a bit silly as you get older, but actually, to my ears at least, it kind of grows with you.  For instance, you might hear a song like "Daddy's Speeding" with more insight into the ways it plays into American mythology, while still enjoying it for being awesome.  The music is ROCK SOLID, with Anderson's crooning (whiny, some less forbearing critics would say) voice perfect for the material.

The one thing you really notice about this album, though, is that, while you like all the songs a lot, the last four--"The Two of Us," "Black and Blue," "The Asphalt World," and "Still Life"--all sound like they come from a different, better album.  Like the first eight tracks was the band still finding its feet, and then after that very good album they unleashed just this absolutely staggering torrent.  "I heard you call from across the city through the stereo sound/And so I crawled there sickeningly pretty as the money went round" and "And then one day she moved away from those garden walls/She left some flowers, he smoked for hours/she understood the law" and "Sometimes they fly from the covers to the winter of the river/For these silent stars of the silver screen, it's in the bloodstream, it's in the liver" and, I cannot imagine such a climax to an album as the part where he goes "this stiiiiiill life is all I ever do/There by the window, quietly kill for you."  MY GOODNESS.

Though some of their later music is good, to my ear they really never ascended any further than this, as indeed have few bands in the history of ever.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I also revisited this album in recent years, and also thought it held up well enough, but I never quite saw it as one of the all-time greats to begin with. I think their greatest and most unique asset was Anderson's voice -- like, I'm still in awe of the opening of "The Wild Ones," and honestly I think the song could have been done entirely a cappella without losing much. Same for "Still Life," or "The Power." Definitely there's a strong case for him being the best 90s Britpop vocalist. Unfortunately he largely lost it later on (by smoking just a bit too much crack), but on Dog Man Star he was in his prime.

At the same time, I think the Anderson/Butler conflict does show on this album, in that Butler is basically drowned out by Anderson and doesn't have much of a chance to do anything. In my opinion, there is one notable guitar bit, between choruses of "We Are The Pigs," and the weird wall-of-noise thing in "The Asphalt World" is impressive in a way, but overall, I think Suede's best _music_ all went on the B-sides -- like, the Dog Man Star-era tracks on Sci-Fi Lullabies are all more interesting in a purely musical sense than most of the album.

The other thing is that Anderson's writing is really formulaic. To write a Suede song, you first come up with four lines, preferably containing the words "taxi" and "son," then copy and paste them and change a couple words to make your second verse. It's not a crime or anything -- like, Morrissey basically did the same thing -- but he leans on that approach pretty hard. It became self-parodic on their later albums, but even here it already showed.

I always thought the short-lived Anderson/Butler reunion (The Tears in 2005) was surprisingly decent. It jolted Anderson out of his comfort zone and he put a bit more effort into his writing, and Butler's guitar was also pretty solid.

SK

8:01 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

Well, I'll admit I was moderately stoned when I wrote that, so I may have been overstating things a little...but only a little. Maybe I'm less sensitive to these things, but whatever drama was going on between Butler and Anderson is basically invisible to me. Also, I may not know what "musically interesting" means, but hard disagree on the Dog Man Star b-sides being much cop (I would have been willing to semi-agree until I realized that "My Dark Star" and "The Living Dead" are actually from "Stay Together."). Otherwise, man, I dunno: "Killing of a Flash Boy" is all right, and Eno's "Introducing the Band" has to be admired for its sheer perversity, but aside from that I'm coming up empty. It's weird, because I'll take Dog Man Star over Coming Up any day of the week, and yet I think the latter had a substantially better crop of b-sides.

5:57 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

...also, as far as Suede buzzwords go, let's not forget "suburban."

10:58 AM  

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