Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Michael Strait
It feels almost like a tribute to David Bowie to review Suede’s debut album shortly after Bowie’s death. Suede has always been accused of being influenced by Bowie: vocal style, androgynous image, subject matter, very British and music that sometimes sounds like Ziggy Never Let Us Down, although our Hero did feel Low himself.
On this, their debut album, their musical style is actually all over the map, they had not really established their future style, but the singing is as it would ever be. Any one song will suffice to check if you can stand Brett Anderson’s somewhat peculiar voice. Let’s take She’s Not Dead, third track on the album. Starts as a nice ballad, some synthy noises, a nice acoustic guitar and some drum rolls. The moment Brett starts, it’s like he’s singing about the end of the world, the end of his relationship, the end of his life and all the time the weather is shitty as well and his tooth aches.
Compared to OK, but totally ordinary voices (JJ Cale, Phil Collins, Paul Simon, Mark Knopfler, etc…) he has a rather high tenor and preferably uses it in an operatic manner. Every song, every other line. Adjust yourself to this, and you’re in for a nice ride.
Moving on, Moving is almost Ramones having lunch with David Bowie, with Alice Cooper serving, all in under three minutes with some old-fashioned distortion effects on the guitar. Nice. Breakdown is their big power ballad, and here it’s actually Brett saving the song from moving into Foreigner territory. You expect an orchestra and/or a choir, but you do not get it.
But Bernard Butler deserves a mention: he’s quite an inventive guitar player. Somewhat flashy, but then you’d have to be next to Brett. He has quite sympho, almost proggy stylings. Nothing in the way of tricky time signatures but epic guitar melodies in sometimes rather simple songs do lift the quality and the listening experience, for instance in Sleeping pills where they almost out-Bowie David.
The Next Life is piano based, nice for a change, and could have appeared on Hunky Dory. Originally it was the last song of the album, and a cliff hanger that made you wonder where they would go. On current available editions (that I do not know), it’s followed by seven (mostly not too different) demo versions and a complete second cd with another 14 songs. Some of those appear on the compilation double cd SciFi Lullabies, so check it out before you invest in several Suede CD’s.
Suede would move on to better things later on (I especially recommend Coming Up which in its theatricality is quite unique in 1990’s British pop music), but here the seeds were sown. If Oasis is fake grungy Beatlesque pop with worse vocals to you, and Blur is just too much of the Kinks in the early 70’s, Suede might be your British pop group to define the 90’s, much as Travis would do for the 00’s, but I’m going off topic here.