Britpop Survivor #2 – Suede’s Dog Man Star

They were known in my school as That Gay Band. The skinny singer flouncing around with his shirt undone and his dyed black hair. A song called Animal Nitrate. (Amyl Nitrate, geddit?) And Anderson’s media-baiting description of himself as “a bisexual man who never had a homosexual experience.”

I’ve got no problem with Suede Fans, but I just wish they wouldn’t shove it in my face.

While some kids skulked around the newsagents with Playboy slipped between copies of Match and Shoot, I walked tentatively to cash desk at Eastleigh Our Price and handed the beautiful, brunette checkout girl a CD of Dog Man Star. I hoped she wouldn’t think I was some sort of sexual deviant (unless she was into that sort of thing, of course). She scanned it, bagged it, looked me in the eyes from underneath her dead-straight fringe and said “Great album.”

When I got home, I listened to it with the volume down low. “What you doing in there Jack?” my mum called through the closed bedroom door.

I hid the album under my duvet cover and turned it down lower, my finger poised on the STOP button should she come in. “Nothing.”

58 minutes later, the world seemed different to me.

1994: Liam Gallagher the icon and FHM the bible for the young, British male. It refreshing to know that being a misogynistic, football obsessed prick in a zip-up top wasn’t mandatory.

And the music was like nothing I had ever heard before…

The opening Introducing The Band shouldn’t work. Tumbling guitars, thick bass and no chorus. But it’s strangely hypnotic. It’s a two-minute palate cleanser. It takes you out of the real world and puts you into the permanent midnight and dimly-lit city streets in which Dog Man Star exists, before making way for the gothic glam of We Are The Pigs – arguably their best single.

One thing is apparent over the course of this album – everyone here is playing their heart out. Butler’s guitar work is exquisite. Marrying lead and rhythm, covering the songs in an intricate spider web of tremolo and off-kilter hooks. I’d go so far to say he’s the best guitarist this side of Neil Young.

Next up, a track called Heroine. Drug allusions and yet more rich, textured glam. Once you reach the wasted beauty of The Wild Ones, you’re either completely in or completely out.

The album’s centrepiece is the nine-minute plus The Asphalt World. Wah guitars and sleaze. Huge drums. A guitar solo that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end even after I’ve heard it a hundred times. And Anderson nailing the lyrics:

Sometimes they fly from the covers to the winter of the river

For these silent stars of the cinema

It’s in the blood stream, it’s in the liver

 

It’s not exactly Parklife, right?

The whole album is a sprawling noir gem. Glam – I’m not talking Wizard glam, I’m talking Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul or Roxy Music’s A Song For Europe.

People really fucking hate Suede. I get it – they’re overblown, pompous and the production is weird. But I believe all the best art polarises opinion. Plus, if everyone liked it, it wouldn’t make it quite so special.

Their eponymous debut album’s killer, too. But Dog Man Star betters it in scope, musicianship, songs and lyrics.

I went to school the next day. “I like Suede,” I declared. Pretty sure I took a beating for that one.

Undeterred, I dyed my hair black and worked on my cheekbones. Fuck ‘em.

(Britpop Survivor #1 – Elastica’s Debut Album can be found here.)

5 comments

  1. I was dead for a good part of the 1990s. For me, Britpop was just Morning Glory blaring from a wall jukebox, helping me get even drunker in The Star in Portobello Road. Ironically, it used to be one of Damon Albarn’s locals in those days. Up until he, and the rest band, got banned for drunken behaviour.

    You’re dead right with the Bowie and Roxy Music comparisons, especially the Bowie vocals. But you’re way out on the Neil Young one. I love Neil Young, and the way he plays guitar is sheer brilliance, but you have to get to the other side of him and listen more closely to Mick Ronson to make a fairer comparison. And Ronson thrashes Butler in my humble opinion. See that? I just used ‘humble’ in that superior way where I don’t think my opinion is humble at all. I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to do it more often from now on.

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    1. Listen to Southern Man – that’s where Butler nicked his style from. The open chord pull-offs (D minor if I’m not mistaken!) are the basis on which he forms most of his riffs. Ronson I love, but he’s far wilder than Butler. Butler’s more considered – like Young. Not to say I don’t adore Ronson’s atomic bomb approach (have you heard the BBC session of Moonage Daydream? You can practically hear his guitar breaking), but they’re two different things. Apples and oranges. Put it this way – you can replicate a Neil Young solo or a Bernard Butler solo, but you’d be pretty hard pressed to replicate one of Ronson’s.

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