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Suede - ‘The Best Of Suede’

Posted Mon 8 Nov 2010 10:43 GMT by Jaime Gill in Album Reviews
Shall we skip the history lesson? There are hundreds of books and websites detailing Suede's turbulent past; their baggy beginnings, staggering early fame, drug-fuelled implosions and gradual decline into self-parody. But none of that captures the context, how moribund British guitar pop seemed in the years before their arrival.

The charts were ruled by Right Said Fred and Simply Red, while indie was the limp, soggy plaything of unambitious shufflers like Ned's Atomic Dustbin or Kingmaker. Music was on life support, but nobody could find the plug to pull. And then Suede exploded and everything spluttered dramatically, thrillingly back to life.

It wasn't that they were vastly original, or claimed to be: Brett Anderson declared allegiance to Bowie sleaze and Smiths romanticism long before critics had even sharpened their knives. What made Suede life-transforming was their timing and the swaggering brilliance of those early songs. Just listen to ‘The Best Of Suede''s opener, the brutal, bestial ‘Animal Nitrate', or its finale, the forlorn piano lament, ‘The Next Life'. Both written in 1992 by Anderson and Bernard Butler, a wildly talented songwriting partnership which seemed capable of anything.

A glance at the credits of this lovingly compiled and expertly remastered retrospective confirm the impact of that tempestuous collaboration. Of the 35 singles, album tracks and b-sides collected, almost two thirds are stamped with the Anderson/Butler imprint. Suede achieved greater commercial success without Butler, often with fabulous pop songs - the fizzing melodies of ‘Beautiful Ones', the bouncy ebullience of ‘Trash', the sleek, swooning ‘She's In Fashion' - but were never again as ambitious and assured.

It was their versatility that most enthralled, moving from three minute glam slams like ‘Metal Mickey' to brooding ten minute epics like ‘The Asphalt World'. In between you'll find lovelorn ballads (‘The Wild Ones'), appalled dystopian visions (‘We Are The Pigs') and tear-stained torch songs (‘The Big Time). Their talent was so carelessly abundant that several of this collection's pinnacles are b-sides, including the razor-toothed ‘Killing Of A Flashboy' and the mesmerisingly lovely ‘My Dark Star'.

On ‘Stay Together' (disappointingly represented here by its single edit, rather than its full eight minute majesty), all of these strands - Butler's astoundingly fluid musicianship and Anderson's soaring melodies, desperate romanticism and apocalyptic dread - knot together in one inspired, sublime masterpiece.

Later years saw that well of inspiration dry up, as can be heard on the emptily anthemic ‘Everything Will Flow', the only truly mediocre song here. But by focusing on that original flood of creativity, that intensity, daring and beauty, ‘The Best Of Suede' rewrites history and freezes Suede in time as what they briefly were: a very nearly perfect band.


1. Val -
I've been loving myself sick with the resurgence of suede this year. I'm grateful that they are finally getting the recognition they deserve for being such an inspiration to many lost and lonely misfits in the 90s.
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