I wish I could explain why this song has been in my head so much recently. Not even the song; it’s literally just been the wan chorus, weak even by the standards of Suede, a band whose choruses have always been weaker than the rest of the songs that surround them. But it has, despite the fact that it’s likely been close to a decade since I purposefully listened to the song before looking for the video for this post. Sometimes, nostalgia works like that — part of your brain fixates on something of little to no consequence, and you’re just stuck there.
This song, despite itself, reminds me not of the era it comes from, but my walking some distance through San Francisco a decade or so later, listening to it and other Coming Up-era B-sides as I went through the city that was still new to me at the time. The feeling that being lost was a wrong turn away at any given moment, but the airiness of this song and the sunshine of the moment making me feel as if nothing could really go that wrong no matter what. It’s a happy memory, one that deserves better than this song, really, but we don’t get to decide what connections get made. We just surrender to the maps made inside our brains and move forward from there.
Another song that has emotional sense memories that threaten to overwhelm the actual music, “We Are The Pigs” has two lives for me; the song itself, with Bond theme-esque spider guitar and horns (Not to mention one of my favorite instrumental breaks in pop music – Listen to the way that Bernard Butler manages to up the drama with the rising guitar line from 2:10 through 2:16, and then BAM, it’s as if the lead guitar gets gently brought down again by the acoustic and rhythm guitars working together; I love that) and Brett Anderson being ridiculously camp and threatening (“As the smack cracks at your window/You wake up with a gun in your mouth” indeed, Brett), and the place the song has in specific friendships and the life I had at the time Dog Man Star came out.
I can’t hear this song without remembering Andy Barnett’s flat as he’d listen to the album before we went out on Monday nights to dance our cares away and pretend that we were more glamorous and attractive than we really were at the time (Well, me, anyway; Andy was always pretty fucking glamorous and attractive; suave and elegant, even). My initiation into Suede, and Britpop as a whole, perhaps, happened on those nights and nights like them. It feels like a lifetime ago, these days.
One of my favorite songs to open an album, “Introducing The Band” is a great primer for what listeners should’ve expected from Dog Man Star, the second – and by far, the best – album from Suede way back when (That this album is almost 20 years old makes me feel depressingly decrepit): Something that managed to sound like grandiose glam rock science fiction that’s been particularly tarnished and beaten, with wonderfully over the top lyrics that hint at an awkward poetry (“Chic thug stuttered through a stereo dream/A fifty knuckle shuffle heavy metal machine/The tears of suburbia drowned the land/Introducing the band”) even as it acknowledges its own pretentiousness (“As the sci-fi lullabies start to build”) with some tongue-in-cheek comedy (“I want the style of a woman/The kiss of a man” always felt to me like a reference to this), all performed in a stupidly over-the-top manner. It’s a song that’s hypnotic – Really, that “Dying/I’m Dying/I’m Dying/I’m” loop is what does it – but almost daring you to pull away because it’s so ridiculous. I love it dearly.
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.
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.
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”:
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.