366 Songs 143: If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)

There need to be more songs like this, I think; hopelessly romantic, but songs for non-lovers for whatever reason. The way the song sounds is gentle and stereotypically “love song”-ish, with Rhys’ warm voice and the simple arrangement that sounds old-fashioned (That falling piano!), but the lyrics are more… hurt, more guarded and that appeals to me. “I will always wonder/How life would be if we never had met/Things would be easier/But dull, I suspect,” he sings, in a line that always makes my heart break – Anyone who’s never felt like that, you’re lucky – before returning to the refrain for thwarted lovers in the chorus: “I never claimed you were mine/But if we were words, we would rhyme.”

It’s a wonderfully sweet song, but one that’s also staggeringly sad. Like I said, the world needs more songs like this, I think.

366 Songs 142: Can’t Get Enough

This is one of those songs that nostalgia overwhelms any critical judgment for me; it was the first song played at Suede’s first gig to promote Head Music, something I’d been bussed down to London from Aberdeen to be present for because… Actually, I can’t even really remember, now. Was I supposed to be designing their tour program at that point, or was I just going down with friends, one of whom I had an entirely doomed crush on? Either way, I remember the song sounding great live – Very different from this version, although I’ve always liked the fact that scissors are used for percussion in the recorded version – and, after the gig, people still singing their versions of the opening lyrics, half-remembered and entirely wrong. This song will always be about that weird period in my life when I spent a lot of time in London, feeling both like I was “making it” (even though I didn’t know what that meant), and losing it (knowing all too well what that meant); just hearing it now reminds me of bus rides and plane trips and sleeping on a lot of friends’ floors.

366 Songs 141: Every Monday Morning Comes

Something weird/sad/whatever about Suede’s comeback, post-Bernard Butler leaving the band: Coming Up – which was, I should point out, a massive hit for the band, far more popular than the last Butler album Dog Man Star – wasn’t their first post-Butler album, really. There was another album entirely of material that had been rejected by their record label for not being good enough in between, parts of which snuck out as b-sides of Coming Up singles. “Every Monday Morning Comes” came from there, and appeared as a CD-extra track on one of two variants of the “Trash” single. It’s much less eager to please than anything on Coming Up, and far more sprawling; while the lyrics are essentially junk, there’s a attractiveness of that climbing guitar line, and the bridge that starts at 2:03 is the kind of thing that had gotten people to pay attention to Suede in the first place, just a wonderful example of someone showing off playing the guitar with their new effects pedal.

When “Trash” came out, I knew someone who worked in the management office of Suede – This is how I ended up doing the design of their Head Music tour program, a couple years later, a fun and frustrating experience – and I sent them a postcard (This was pre-internet, of course; I am old) saying “Every Monday Morning Comes” should’ve been the single. Years later, said friend wrote Love & Poison, a really great biography of the band, and said the same thing. I always wondered if he stole the line from me, or thought the same thing all along.

366 Songs 140: Beautiful Ones

By some Suede-y contrast, here’s the second single for Coming Up, their comeback album from… what, maybe two or three years after Dog Man Star, the last album with Bernard Butler…? Something like that. The band had two new members, Neil Codling and Richard Oakes – I can’t believe I can remember their names without looking it up, and feel suitably embarrassed about that, to be honest – who’d both taken on some co-writing duties with singer Brett Anderson, and Suede was re-created as a much shinier, less threatening thing to take advantage of the Britpop scene that was already beginning to decline. “Beautiful Ones” was the second single off the album and… it’s catchy, and it’s fine, but it lacks the presence of something like “Killing of A Flash Boy.” It’s lightweight and disposable, and for all the sly comedy of the lyrics (“Shaking their meat/To the beat/Yeah” and “Shaking their bits/To the hits/Oh” indeed), it’s also slightly embarrassing; a parody of the sexual ambiguity and danger of the band they used to be.

More depressingly, this was by far the best of the singles from the album, and probably the best of the tracks at all, with the possible exception of the (equally arch, equally camp) “She”:

366 Songs 139: Killing of A Flash Boy

There’s something funny to me about the fact that my favorite Suede song wasn’t actually written as a song, as such. “Killing of A Flash Boy,” according to Bernard Butler – credited as co-writer, with Brett Anderson, and released as the b-side to “We Are The Pigs” just after Butler had left the band – is actually made up on chunks of unfinished music he’d been playing with, sewn-together Frankenstein-style after the fact. And, when you know that, you can actually hear it: Listen to the abrupt change of the instrumentation at 0:43, or 2:08, for example; without the vocals to soften it, you’d wonder if someone had changed the song you were listening to, the edit is so abrupt.

And yet, the end result works. The tension between the glam strut of the opening (Those drums, clearing the way for the foreboding guitar riff!) and the chorus, which feels extravagant in contrast, indulgent in a way that makes sense for such a violent song – it’s showing off, in its way – before falling back to the riff and menace of the verse again; the urban psychedelia of the bridge (Anderson’s voice, flanged-to-shit: “So think of the sea, my baby/Think of the sea as you murder me…”). And also, maybe most of all, possibly my favorite Suede lyrics of all. There’s something appropriately lyrical and mean about an opening like “All the white kids shuffle/To the heavy metal stutter/And go/Shaking on the scene/Like a killing machine,” as well as the threat of “That shitter with a pout/Won’t be putting it about no more.” It’s one of the few times, for me, that Anderson managed to inhabit a character that felt real and not overly idealized, but still worked with a kind of poetry.

366 Songs 138: Morpha Too

There’s something about the final two songs on Radio City, the just-plain-amazing second album by Big Star, that feels both weirdly out of place and oddly prescient of what would end up happening on the never-officially-released, awkward Third/Sister Lovers; the rock and roll swagger of songs like “She’s A Mover” and “Daisy Glaze” (“You’re gonna die! Yes, you’re gonna die! Right now!”) gives way to the far more vulnerable, kind of wasted acoustic play of “I’m In Love With A Girl” and this one, “Morpha Too.” It’s such a charmingly simple song, arrangement-wise, with lyrics that are both sweet and somewhat disturbing (“I might call/Might call/I might need some help”). I’ve never quite known what to make of this song, beyond liking it… It makes me concerned, but in that sense, it’s the perfect bridge to the quiet horror of Third, I guess.

366 Songs 137: Magic In The Air

A song that feels like summer, to me. Specifically, the summer Kate and I started emailing each other for the first time. The album that “Magic In The Air” comes from, “The Hour of The Bewilderbeast” had just been released and I would listen to it over and over again, with the sun streaming in the windows and writing long, nervous emails to send halfway across the world, wanting to believe in Damon Gough when he sang “Love is contagious/When it’s alright/Love is contagious…”