How ‘Dog Man Star’, Suede’s Gothic Monstrosity, Changed My Life

NME

It was 1994 and the transformation from grunger to haughty thrift-store ponce in a terylene shirt was easy enough to configure with the town’s high street full of the finest charity shops known to man, but some of my friends weren’t too impressed with the new me to begin with. Back before the internet homogenised everything, there were still musical tribes, and my bri-nylon blouse and fringe in my eyes looked incongruous among the longhairs, the paratrooper boots and the hairy knees and Soundgarden t-shirts and the miasma of weed as we all sat down together to play PGA Golf on the Sega.

I’d not really got Suede initially. My friend Dan, who bought Melody Maker every week, wouldn’t shut up about them. I admired the artistry in the riff to ‘Metal Mickey’ but the hype pretty much passed me by, which is easy enough when you live in a seaside town seemingly miles away from anywhere. I’m not entirely sure when the epiphany came but I’m pretty certain it was during a 30 second clip on MTV for 120 Minutes – the stations’ flagship alternative show at the time – which featured a snippet from ‘Animal Nitrate’. And as I listened to Bernard Butler buzzsaw through a kaleidoscopic instrumental break it was like nothing I’d ever heard before and my mouth dropped agape in shock and awe. I was hooked from that moment. It was a ‘bloody hell!’ moment. With trepidation and excitable curiosity, I belatedly sought out their first album and admonished myself for the blind spot that had kept me listening to Pearl Jam way past the moment I’d become entirely bored with them.

‘Stay Together’ came out, and I loved that song (much more than the band it would transpire), but nothing had quite prepared me for the unbridled devotion I’d feel when ‘Dog Man Star’ finally graced us with its presence in October 1994. Oh, the ambition. The decadence! The glamour! The baroque majesty of it all! Brett Anderson sang wantonly about drugs like some picaresque antihero driving around the city aimlessly in a taxi at night (the big show-off), and he sang of bisexuality too, which was very good timing as Calvin Klein had just put CK One on the market. If Suede had ushered in a renaissance of Glam Rock then ‘Dog Man Star’ was as tenebrous and as dangerously androgynous as a Caravaggio masterpiece.

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I was in love with this ostentatious world they’d created, and suddenly the town I was in felt a long way from the gothic mansion of Highgate where the record had been inspired, and from Camden too, where Britpop was having its heyday. Call me shallow if you will, but I wanted to go where bands were and where other people like me would wanly swing their arms about on horse-tranquiliser and cider. Hell, I didn’t even live in a satellite town like some of the characters in Suede’s songs, I was stuck in the West Country having people drunkenly shout “Jarvis Cocker!” at me across the street every night. I was of course the only person in town they could think of with a stupid haircut falling into their eyes and trousers bought from Sue Ryder, and so they persecuted me by shouting the wrong band out. I loved Pulp, but come on provincial thickos, wrong fucking band! I had to move.

It would take a while for me to pluck up the courage to get out of town. ‘Dog Man Star’ was my inspiration, and it soundtracked my hours waiting to pick my moment to escape as I lay naked on a mattress with my arse in the air like on the cover. I lived in an attic room with a big window, so I even identified with the figure on the sleeve, only my room wasn’t awash with a monochromatic olive drab filter and nor was my skin green. But really, it was about the songs anyway. The crepuscular sexiness of ‘Asphalt World’ introduced me to a whole dreamy landscape of urban promise, while ‘New Generation’, with its naughty lyrics about imbibing things on the weekend etc, made me feel like a part of something much bigger than myself.

Eventually I did leave and I moved to London, and for a while I lived in Highgate too, but not in a huge gothic mansion like Brett. It was one of those rare records that completely changes your life for the better, and unlike nearly all grunge bands, I still listen to this now, often, for pleasure. The imagination and the ambition and the variety means you can hear something different each time you play it, a song you might have neglected suddenly becomes your favourite or the atmosphere catches you at the right moment and stirs something in you. Even now. In many ways it’s a monstrosity, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a high camp gothic masterpiece that errs towards the ridiculous, and it’s all the better for it too.

Anniversary pieces often rue the fact that it only seems like five minutes ago since the record first came out, but for me personally so much has been packed into the 20 years since its arrival that it feels like 20 years. In fact it wasn’t that well received on arrival, and if my memory serves me well, only went into the album charts at no.3, with the followup – ‘Coming Up’ – selling three times as many copies; ‘Dog Man Star’ has attained its classic status by stealth, eventually achieving what some of us have always known. I’ve seen Suede play the album twice, once at the ICA when nobody liked them anymore ahead of them splitting up, and again at Brixton when they’d reformed and everyone loved them again. It was brilliant both times. The next time they play it in its entirety I’ll hopefully be there too. So happy birthday ‘Dog Man Star’, and thanks for the memories.

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