Prior to the release of Suede’s debut album in 1993, the British band had already been embellished with a career’s worth of attention by their native press. Seemingly emerging from nowhere, the London-based four piece had been dubbed “The Best New Band In Britain” by Melody Maker, among others, and began cropping up on magazine covers across the United Kingdom. Although some suggested that the buzz over Suede was little more than media fomented hype and that the band’s actual talents were dubious, the group continued to attract fans. When their self-titled album went straight to the number one position on sales charts, becoming England’s fastest-selling album in almost ten years, it grew apparent that Suede’s merits were not the product of a few critics’ caprice. Subsequently, the group went on to record even more critically acclaimed albums and sold out a number of concert performances.
But unlike many acts who made a splashy entrance, Suede displayed staying power, as well as a need to avoid artistic stagnation. Despite Suede’s consistent approval on their home shores throughout phases of petulant guitar pop and dramatic, almost operatic song-writing, as well as through conflict within the group, their success in the United States has been disappointing. Nonetheless, Suede have made a mark as purveyors of well-crafted, original pop music, while lead singer and songwriter Brett Anderson has proved to be a cultural icon in his transgressive style and views on gender and sexuality.
While Suede entertains an image of glamour and fame, the group’s beginnings were inauspicious. Residents of the London, England, suburb of Hayward’s Heath, singer Anderson and bass guitarist Mat Osman decided to form a band in 1989, founded on a common love for the style and attitude of seminal British artists of the punk, glam, and pop rock genres, including the groups Roxy Music, The Jam, T. Rex, and The Smiths. Moreover, Anderson was undeniably influenced by legendary singer/songwriter David Bowie, who had fused intelligent songs of daring subject matter with a selfconsciously constructed image of ambiguous sexuality. With the help of an advertisement in the New Musical Express, the twosome discovered guitarist Bernard Butler. The band briefly played as a trio before enlisting former punk rock drummer Simon Gilbert, and second guitarist Justine Frischmann, who would later form the band Elastica.
The band began performing under the name Suede, playing small, bitterly received gigs. As one critic asserted in a press release, the band found themselves “hated, to be frank, by journalists, venues, agents, and record companies who dismissed their low-rent style of
Band members include Brett Anderson , vocals; Neil Codling (joined the band during the recording of Coming Up), keyboards; Simon Gilbert , drums; Richard Oakes (joined band in 1994), guitars; and Mat Osman , bass guitar. Former members include Bernard Butler (left band in 1994), guitar; and Justine Frish-mann , guitar.
Suede was formed by Anderson and Osman in the late 1980s, in London, England; signed with Nude Records, 1992; released debut self-titled album and performed at the BRIT (music) Awards, 1993; sued by singer Susan DeBronkart, changed name to London Suede on releases in United States, and released Dog Man Star, 1994; released Coming Up, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Nude/Columbia, 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019. Information Service— P.O.Box 3431, London, England N1 7 LW. Website —http://www.thelondonsuede.com.
glamour as a thing born of ennui.” In the face of such utter disdain, the group continued to plug away at live performances and recorded a forgettable single, “Be My God.” It seemed that Suede was doomed to stagnating in bars and small clubs. However, by 1992 Suede would become one of England’s most discussed group of artists.
Suede’s success took shape when the group was signed to newly formed Nude Records. Nude’s owner and founder, Saul Galpern, was enthused about Suede’s demo tapes and began finding exposure for the band. “They have the ingredients that make a great group that people haven’t seen for a long time,” Galpern told Independent Catalogue. “They can play, they write great songs, they have a singer with charisma, a guitarist who never ceases to amaze me … they can speak and their sound is very distinctive. I’m not saying it’s completely new or different but they’re taking influences and making it sound very 90s.” Suede then released a succession of three singles, “The Drowners,” “Metal Mickey,” and “Animal Nitrate,” and critics and listeners quickly echoed Galpern’s sentiments. All three singles had increasingly impressive success on sales charts, and all were named Single of the Week by Britain’s premiere popular music journals, Melody Maker and The New Musical Express. Furthermore, the band began to develop its own image, with the media focusing on the photogenic, quotable Anderson.
In March of 1993, the self-titled album, Suede, was released in the United Kingdom, and its success fulfilled the hopes ignited by its preceding singles. The album entered the charts at number one and turned gold on the second day of sales, a stellar achievement for a debut record on an independent label. The ten songs on the album were a solid mixture of infectious, guitar driven pop songs and emotive ballads laced with subtle lyrics evoking drugs, tragedy, and sex with both sincerity and irony. In fact, the sexually ambiguous quality of Anderson’s songwriting, as well his self-conscious image, made the singer a virtual poster child for the transgressive in popular culture. “I really don’t think you have to declare your sexuality absolutely,” Anderson stated on the subject of his lyrics in a Melody Maker forum on sex and music. “Morrissey [the ex-vocalist for the band The Smiths] never has—his songs can be homoerotic, or about friends, or just about love. And he’s all the more interesting for that.”
While Suede had proved in England that they were more than mere hype, something was lost in translation over the Atlantic. Despite positive reviews in American magazines such as Rolling Stone, Suede’s sales in the United States were marginal, comprised largely of independent rock fans. Probably, this sluggishness in mass American acceptance stems from Suede’s decided British style and subject matter. In a period when the United States was busy celebrating the rebirth of more aggressive rock in the wake of bands like Seattle’s Nirvana, Anderson’s delivery of songs, steeped in a tradition of British pop music, clashed harshly with the American trend. Band members were also quite frank in their dissent of global Americanization, and they became key figures in the British press’s laudation of “Britpop” alongside the likes of Blur, Saint Etienne, Pulp, and Oasis. As Select magazine asserted, “the men who have come to save pop are using as their weaponry certain qualities, certain characteristics of English culture that have lain dormant since the heyday of The Smiths. Some of Suede’s portfolio may appear trivial—the blousy image, the hair oil and fringes, the hipster jeans and brocade shirts—but it underlines the aspects of Suede that are anything but superficial, the things that make them a salvation”.
To compound matters in the United States, Suede became the target of a copyright infringement lawsuit launched by American lounge singer Susan DeBronkart. DeBronkart, who had released several albums under the name Suede, claimed sole rights to the moniker in America, and her lawyers offered the band a list of alternates to choose from. After deciding that changing their name to The London Suede was the least odious of these options, the band was forced to release subsequent material in the United States under that name, while remaining simply Suede in the rest of the world.
The group’s first release as Suede was the 1994 single “Stay Together,” a soaring eight-minute romantic epic that was never to appear on an album. However, the ambitious mode of “Stay Together” set the mood for the band’s second full-length release, Dog Man Star. Clocking in at over an hour, Dog Man Star continued the previous album’s exploration of the dimly lit youth subculture of an England in glamorous decline at the end of the millennium, again blurring gender lines with its lyrical imagery. “I want the style of a woman, the kiss of a man,” Anderson intoned on the album’s first cut, “Introducing the Band.” Musically, Suede bypassed the single-oriented song style of their debut album in favor of sweeping, orchestral ballads more in tune with cabarets and musical theater than popular radio. Nonetheless, the album fared well commercially in England and was received as an instant classic by critics. A year later, Select magazine included Dog Man Star on its list of the ten best albums of the 1990s and was heralded by the Manchester Guardian as one of the one hundred best records of all time, with only three other 1990s albums on the list. Suede had by now achieved a status of artistry allotted to very few performers.
Just as the pinnacle of the band’s output was released, conflict within Suede caused Butler to depart from the band to later team up with vocalist David McAlmont. Because Butler had been the chief author of the group’s music, it was doubtful whether Suede could withstand such a loss. The band’s fans were apprehensive, while their critics saw Butler’s departure as, in Q writer Tom Doyle’s words, “a smirking, told-you-so affirmation that the most over-exposed and loudly trumpeted band of the decade had prematurely collapsed under the weight of their bloated reputation and sky-scraping egos.” When the band made the daring decision to replace Butler with 17-year-old Richard Oakes, the suspense only mounted. Oakes accompanied Suede for the Dog Man Star world tour, providing competent guitar work. But the issue of whether the band could pen impressive new material without Butler remained unsettled.
After the release of their third album, Coming Up, in late 1996—there was a several month lag for the American release—Suede proved that they were no fluke, but a band with a stable core. It also appeared that the expansive musical style of Dog Man Star had largely been the vision of Butler, whose post-Suede singles “Yes” and “You Do” followed in the same direction. While still steeped in Suede’s characteristic affecting, yet ironic pathos, Coming Up was a returning step towards the singles-oriented catchiness of the first album, proving that Oakes and newly acquired keyboardist Neil Codling were worthy songsmiths. As Doyle assessed, by their third album the band had “distilled the grandeur of Dog Man Star and bottled it in three-minute pop songs,” with Anderson still “making evocative references to nowhere towns and seaside shacks, Streatham trash and petrol fumes, peepshows and freak shows, drag acts and drug acts, tasteless bracelets and Terylene shirts.” Moreover, the album celebrates the quick passing of youth, “looking nostalgically at youth as living it,” as Selectwriter Roy Wilkinson noted.
While Coming Up was both critically and commercially a smash in England—it entered the charts at number one—and produced several successful singles including “Trash” and “Saturday Night,” by the time of its release Suede had become almost invisible in America. With few exceptions, most notably Oasis, the so-called “Britpop” phenomenon was out of synch with mainstream radio in the United States. Thus, Suede’s stateside following was again limited to devout fans of extravagant pop. Despite Suede’s uncertain relationship with American audiences, their status as a world-class band remains clear. In Wilkinson’s words, they are celebrated as a band who “have taken the greater challenge: to take the eternal verities of the pop tune and make them fresh one more time.”
The London Suede (original U.K. title: Suede), Nude/Columbia, 1993.
“Stay Together” (single), Nude/Columbia, 1994.
Dog Man Star, Nude/Columbia, 1994.
Coming Up, Nude/Columbia, 1997.
Independent Catalogue, March 1993.
Melody Maker, December 12, 1992.
Q, September 1996.
Select, April 1993; October 1996.
Additional information was obtained from publicity materials from the Columbia Media Department, 1997.
suede / swād/ • n. leather, esp. kidskin, with the flesh side rubbed to make a velvety nap.