Sacred Cows: an occasional series in which NME writers re-appraise classic albums
Back in 1992 when men were men and women weren’t allowed in bands, Suede’s metrosexual assault came out of nowhere. Britain was still getting used to trousers that weren’t the shape and capacity of teepees – skintight strides and blouses were straight out of The Old Bi-Curiosity Shop.
And then there were the drugs. Oh, all those drugs. Not the party-starters or the friendly weed, no, this was valium, heroin, downers, “chemicals”. The grubby perennials, not the weekend fun. There was a stark message to glean from all this: smiley-face hedonism and baggy larking is over and the comedown’s going to be pimps, prostitutes and shooting up with your dad. A flashy, trashy rival for grunge.
Well, that all sounds terrific, doesn’t it? And lots of people duly thought it was. But the thing is, it was all hollow. Suede had the arsenal to make a storming first impression, but the troops behind the lines were thin. To chuck some more metaphors into the mix, they shot their bolt too early and the cupboard was bare.
Just look at how it all started. ‘The Drowners’ in May 1992 was precisely what they’d promised: an oil slick of sleaze, a glam rock lurch and a vocal from Brett Anderson that was so mannered even David Bowie would’ve found it perverted. With Blur bumbling about in the initially treacherous foothills of Mount Britpop, Britain itself had new darlings.
A few months on ‘Metal Mickey’ arrived with a peacock strut, a ride through the “slippery city” and equal thrills. The unholy triumvirate was completed the following February with ‘Animal Nitrate’, a slyly winking (“Now you’re over 21”) celebration of gay sex and all the amazing, metallic, clanging, goblin-dancing things Bernard Butler can do with a guitar.
Forgive all the chronology, but the point is anticipation for Suede’s debut album was at a justifiably lofty pitch and when it turned up with that ever-so-daring “Hang on – is that TWO GIRLS kissing each other?” cover in March 1993 it disappointed no one and ended up regarded as one of the finest albums of the decade. Bravo!
Oh, wait – Sacred Cows. Yes, well, it’s not that good, is it? Those three mighty singles strategically placed at sensible junctures are near enough the only worthwhile things there. They’re fully realised songs, while the rest are half-formed ideas – some lovely drifting piano on the otherwise scab-picking ‘So Young’, an affecting grasp at the stars on ‘The Next Life’. But even that’s largely ruined by ham-fisted Ben Foldsy key-thumps.
Depending on how you like your wet-eyed troubadours, there might be something to be said for Suede inventing Jeff Buckley on ‘Pantomime Horse’, but the song shares his penchant for poise over melody. Jeff’s invented all over again on ‘Sleeping Pills’, a meander with pretty guitar work and pocket-lint poetry from Anderson: “Too Siamese to catch the leaves from those trees”. It’s all delicate, dull stuff. Could be worse, of course – they could be reinventing Ned’s Atomic Dustbin on ‘Moving’ or shredding like Mick Mars on the directionless ‘Animal Lover’.
And all the way, there’s Brett – slapping his arse with a microphone, worrying about cars, pills and skinny ribs, and hiccupping along like Kevin Rowland in testicle-spreadingly tight trousers. Put these elements in a host of cracking tunes and you’ve got yourself a record. Stick them in a few rudderless dirges and you’re reaching for that exhaust pipe.
‘Singles’, though. That’s a great album.