25 years ago, two bands were on everybody’s lips. Off the back of breakout albums in 1994, both Oasis and Blur were sharpening their respective weapons, ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ and ‘The Great Escape’, and readying themselves for a malicious chart battle in the autumn.
This was 1995, the year Britpop was in its pomp. The snarling rush of Elastica was about to break records and charge to the top of the charts in March, leading into a heavy touring schedule that sadly led to them turning their back on it all.
There was Pulp to contend with too, led by the charismatic, flailing limbs of frontman Jarvis Cocker. The band’s summer release ‘Different Class’ was exactly that, a subversive, elevated take on a Britpop sound that had spawned more turgid four-man guitar bands than anything pertaining to this legendary quartet.
All these releases were, in pop terms, never again bettered by their creators.
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Conspicuously absent from the mud-slinging and monumental album sales of 1995 though, were the band who had started the whole Britpop phenomenon four years previously. Suede’s entry into the Britpop battle came a year later in 1996. ‘Coming Up’ - which the band is celebrating with a full album tour later this autumn - was their most straight-forward pop record to date.
The band had kicked things off in 1992, on a self-titled debut album that provided a grittier update on the British glam rock of the 70s, setting out the principles of Britpop in the process (mainly repurposing previous genres in British musical history) before following that up with guitarist Bernard Butler’s last album with the band, ‘Dog Man Star’. Dark, moody, and deliciously grandiose, ‘Dog Man Star’ was one of the most overblown and immersive records of the '90s. The critics lapped it up.
The general public was less keen. But the band’s fervid and dedicated fanbase were increasingly pulled in by the band’s tragic, outsider mythology - a fire flamed by the split between one of Britain's greatest songwriting partnerships, Butler and frontman Brett Anderson (not so subtly referred to in stand-alone single, ‘Stay Together’), the lush soundscapes of the former, and the misfit, “Us-against-the-world” manifesto laid out in the latter’s lyrics (‘New Generation’, ‘The Wild Ones’, ‘The Two Of Us’).
With Butler’s departure, the band was in disarray. First on the agenda was finding a replacement. Guitarist Richard Oakes was just 17 when he posted a four-track recorder of him playing to the band's songs to the Suede fan club with a handwritten note that simply read: “Take me or leave me”.
Oakes was quickly drafted in to finish the band’s promotional activity for ‘Dog Man Star’. It was a savvy replacement. Not only could Oakes play Butler’s parts perfectly, but his appointment slotted well into the narrative. Here was a band with one of the most fervent fan clubs around - back at a time when that meant something - anointing one of their own.
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Two years later came ‘Coming Up’. While it’s predecessor could only climb to number three in the charts, ‘Coming Up’ rocketed in at number one, while each one of its five singles made the top ten, beating the four on Blur’s 'The Great Escape' and Oasis’ '(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?'.
'Trash', one of the most joyous celebrations of the band and it’s deserving fans in Suede’s back catalogue, kicked things off, with Oakes' virtuoso riffing glacially gliding alongside Anderson’s wistful, alien-like voice, spinning out wistful musings on the bands symbiotic relationship with its fans, their joint “kookiness” and “the times we've had, the lazy days and the crazes and the fads.”
Competing with 'Trash' as the stand-out single on the album, ‘Beautiful Ones’ is a jangly pop masterpiece with one of the most melancholic sing-a-long choruses Britpop would ever produce.
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'Filmstar' is crunchy and filthy, with Anderson playing the role of posturing rockstar-slash-god, sent down to planet earth as a figure for idolization. The underwhelming 'Lazy' is a rare misfire but leads in nicely to the elegiac slow-burn of 'By The Sea', a moment to rival any on the more historically critically-acclaimed 'Dog Man Star'.
It sees Oakes imitate Butler's lush soundscapes of yore, but it’s an emulation used sparingly on the album. The effect is great, standing as a passing of the torch to this new era of Suede, one that sought to cater to both the fans, and a new wider public interest.
It’s sad then that the new era could never emulate the highs of 'Coming Up' with Suede disappointing with their next two efforts before fizzling out in 2003. Both records lacked the lyrical and musical sense of belonging of their first three. And with it, Suede lost their brilliance - that ability to bring a sense of affinity to the misfits who felt they didn’t belong (thankfully, the band reunited again in 2010 to right these wrongs).
It was this exact tribal nature that had given birth to Britpop and made it one of the most interesting eras in musical history. You supported your band, be that Oasis or Blur, Elastica or Pulp, with every fibre of being. It had led these bands into battle in 1995 and saw everything implode as easily as they had risen.
Anderson always disconnected himself from this Britpop label, so it seems apt, and almost fated, that the band would be removed from that year of 1995. And as such, a year later, they brought a poignant full-stop to the movement they unwittingly created, and with it, Britpop’s last great album.
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Catch Suede performing 'Coming Up' in full at the following shows:
22 Edinburgh Usher Hall
23 Manchester O2 Victoria Warehouse
24 London Alexandra Palace
Words: Ricky Jones
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