Never mind the buttocks, says Henry Yates, here’s the greatest indie album of 1994.
Suede Week is upon us. Three nights at Brixton Academy. Three albums played as your Discman intended. Armies of high-rise flashboys, shaking their meat under nuclear skies (etc). But which album/night did you go for? ‘Suede’ has the killer singles. ‘Coming Up’ is the best to sing into a hairbrush. But for me, it’s all about ‘Dog Man Star’: the best album Suede ever made, and the high-water mark in Britpop’s vintage year of 1994. It has claustrophobia. It has smoke-blackened romance. It has gothic ennui. It’s like reading Grimm fairytales on crystal-meth. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a great night out.
Trouble is, the world won’t listen. Shunned by fans, skimmed over by talking heads on ‘I Love The ’90s!’, snubbed by indie-club DJs who spin ‘Beautiful Ones’ every fucking half-hour… Suede’s masterpiece has been stealthily erased from history. It’s a stretch to call ‘Dog Man Star’ a ‘lost’ album, but since 1994, those mossy buttocks have never ram-raided the public consciousness like Blur’s greyhound or Bonehead’s front-room. Only ‘A New Morning’ charted lower.
Granted, Suede didn’t make it easy for dabblers. ‘Introducing The Band’ kicks things off with the sound of a headache in a Solphadeine advert and a Brett Anderson couplet (“Dog man star took a suck on a pill/and stabbed a cerebellum with a curious quill”) that even Brian Sewell might deem ‘a bit up-its-own-arse’. ‘The Asphalt World’ writhes for nine clammy minutes, while the nuclear explosion in the white-noise section of ‘Daddy’s Speeding’ might as well have been Suede blowing their chances in America.
No wonder you don’t hear new bands running with the ‘Dog Man Star’ template. With an album this ambitious, it’s futile to even try. Commercial suicide, maybe, but these songs got under your skin, pulling you deeper into Suedeworld with every spin, holding you in a trance that meant you’d start listening with a cigarette and snap back into the room when your jeans caught fire. And when ‘Dog Man Star’ risked getting bloated, the grandiosity was punctured by sunbeams like ‘The Wild Ones’ or ‘New Generation’: sublime, no-strings-attached pop that the milkman could whistle.
Best of all was ‘The 2 Of Us’: an aching moment of Anderson/Butler telepathy, co-written spontaneously at the piano, shortly before the guitarist departed with the immortal kiss-off, “you’re a fucking cunt” (I don’t mean those were the lyrics – it’s apparently what Bernard said to Brett when he quit).
Is ‘Dog Man Star’ due a comeback? Don’t hold your breath. This isn’t a record you can strip for parts at 79p a pop. It demands too much patience in the age of the clickwheel and playlist. Frustrating for Suede’s accountants, but fine by me. ‘Dog Man Star’ is an exclusive club. This way, I’ll never see a stag party chanting “we are the pigs!” or hear ‘Daddy’s Speeding’ when Jeremy Clarkson tests a family hatchback on ‘Top Gear’. This album is destined to live in the shadows. Maybe that’s where it belongs.