Friday 14 December 2018

'We kiss in his room to a popular tune'

With Suede about to re-issue their debut album on its 25th anniversary, our reporter hails the wit of frontman Brett Anderson

Frontman: Brett Anderson says life has always been cinema to him
Frontman: Brett Anderson says life has always been cinema to him
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Oscar Wilde said that some of us were in the gutter but looking up at the stars. Fellow wag and dandy, albeit one born 67 years after Oscar's sad death, Brett Anderson has frequently been, metaphorically and physically, in the gutter looking up at the firmament.

"Life has always been cinema to me, even when I've been sitting in the dole office," the androgynous aesthete said, "That's the only way to do it sometimes."

Equally true to this philosophical maxim is Brett's music with his band Suede. The snake-hipped, flop-fringed alt.David Bowie/Lou Reed of his generation, Brett once quipped in 1993, possibly, or possibly not, with his tongue in - ahem - his cheeks: "I see myself as a bisexual man who has never had a homosexual experience." Bursting with wit as well as artifice, to say nothing of glamour (and an art-house glam-rock with a very dark edge), Suede were one of the bands of the 1990s.

And the most hyped.

Melody Maker heralded them as the best new band in Britain even before they had released a single in 1993. Mercifully, they lived up to the hype with their self-titled debut album.

Because, as Brett told Rolling Stone after its glorious release, and reception, "We'd have been birched on the streets of Bermondsey if people didn't think we'd got it after that," he said of the press coverage declaring them the future of the planet post-grunge and in the middle of the tourist coach-party razzmatazz of Britpop/Cool Britannia/New Labour. "But it was the new year, and people were getting bored. London was overrun by these shoe-gazing bands, and there was a feeling of 'I've had enough of this...'"

Brett also described Suede as about "sex and depression in equal measure". Indeed, he once explained what got his creative juices so flowing on that album: "When it comes to writing, there's something to be said about being unhappy. I know I've been at my most creative when I've been sexually unsatisfied."

The cover of Suede was as wonderfully left-of-centre as the band themselves: a sexually satisfied gender-ambiguous couple kissing in a wheelchair. The picture by Tee Corinne was taken from the 1991 book Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs. It was like a Smiths cover but better.

Like The Smiths, too, Suede's lyrics had sonic magic dust sprinkled on them, courtesy of a guitarist who knew his musical history: Bernard Butler. "I was cut from the wreckage one day," sings the imp of perverse Anderson on Pantomime Horse. "This is what I get for being that way." His posturing homoerotic magnificence didn't end there; and the maudlin Home Counties debauchee paused and then asked thus: "Have you ever tried it that way?" On The Drowners, Brett was singing, like Morrissey does to throws off (or on) the erotic scent, "We kiss in his room to a popular tune." And why not?

Their classic Animal Nitrate - a pun on the sex/nightclub drug amyl nitrite - was, as the BBC put it in its review, a thrill-seeking slice of cynicism that perfectly summed up what it was like to "be young and chemically imbalanced in the nation's capital at the time. This was a foreshadow of Blair's Britain."

Be that as it may, Suede's eponymous first album is being re-issued next month to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a 'Silver Edition' deluxe package: along with the original Suede album expect B-sides, demos, monitor mixes, BBC radio sessions, and a live show; 4 CDs and a DVD in a wondrous total.

Other news just in: the Suede singer penned his autobiography for publishers Little, Brown. The latter described the writing in the book as "as sharp as Anderson's cheekbones". The title of the book Coal Black Mornings is a reference the death of Brett's mother or the break-up of his relationship with Justine Frischmann to Damon Albarn.

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