The classic record – released in October 1994 – celebrates a quarter of a century this month
It’s hard to explain how out of sync ‘Dog Man Star’ sounded during the era in which it was released. Sexy when guitar bands were far from it; unsettling when so many of the band’s peers were desperately trying to be booked for Saturday morning kids TV, it’s an album that would change British pop – let alone its creators’ career – irrevocably.
A lot of acid was involved
Brett has said that among the substances that fuelled the creation of ‘Dog Man Star’, psychedelics were at the very top of the pile. “I was doing an awful lot of acid at the time,” he said, “and I think it was this that give us the confidence to push boundaries.”
It’s not inspired by the film ‘Dog Star Man’
Although it’s long been presumed that ‘Dog Man Star’s title was cribbed from experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s 1964 series of shorts, Dog Star Man, Brett has dismissed any influence said film had on his band’s second album. Brett has since described the album’s title as a kind of ‘shorthand Darwinism’, reflecting his journey from the ‘gutter to stardom’. “It was meant to be a record about ambition,” said the singer, “what could you make yourself into…”
But it is inspired by a crime thriller
Anderson was ‘obsessed’ with the 1970 crime drama Performance during this era, watching the movie – directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg – repeatedly. The film stars James Fox as ‘Chas’ – in the actors last role before he’d take 13 years off from the industry to become an evangelical Christian – as a gangster, hiding out at the home of a reclusive rockstar, played by Mick Jagger, in his acting debut.
The artwork originally referenced a controversial film, and an unsolved murder
The record’s original artwork was set to be a still from the Italian artist Pasolini’s horror-art film ‘Salò’, but it was eventually deemed too controversial. The film – a loose adaption of the Marquis de Sade’s ‘The 120 Days Of Sodom’, was Pasolini’s last movie, and was released three weeks after his murder. Pasolini was found dead at age 53 on November 2, 1975, having being mown down by his own car, and having had his testicles crushed by a metal bar. Though 17-year-old Giuseppe (Pino) Pelosi was convicted for the murder in 1976, in 2005 Pelosi retracted his statement saying he’d only made it after his family had been threatened with violence. He claimed that three southern men had carried out the murder, accusing Pasolini of being “a dirty communist.” To date, there have been no further arrests.
The bare bum cover was a replacement
It’s rare you can talk about a photo of a man’s bare bottom and use the words ‘less controversially’, but ultimately Suede settled on ‘Dog Man Star’s cover art being a 1971 image taken by the American photographer Joanne Leonard, Sad Dreams On Cold Mornings. “I just liked the image, really,” said Brett of its selection. “It’s quite sort of sad and sexual, I think, like the songs on the album.”
Suede didn’t care very much for Britpop – despite helping to define it
While Suede – via their appearance on the cover of Select magazine’s infamous ‘Yanks Go Home!’ issue in April 1993 – were the vanguard of the mid-nineties British pop explosion that would come to be known as Britpop, ‘Dog Man Star’ was a record consciously created with a view to distancing themselves from the pack. “I don’t think anybody could deny that we pretty much kicked off what became Britpop,” says Brett, “and for a very limited time we were proud of that. [Then] everybody started singing about having a lovely bunch of coconuts, and running up the apples and pears. It became horribly twisted, a musical Carry On film, and we did our utmost to distance ourselves from it.”
They still feel the same way today
Has time mellowed Brett’s view of Britpop? No. “As soon as we became aware of it,” he recounted to The Guardian in 2013, “We went away and wrote ‘Dog Man Star’. You could not find a less Britpop record. It’s tortured, epic, extremely sexual and personal. None of those things apply to Britpop.”
Brett took divine inspiration
The Highgate flat Brett called home was located next to to a Mennonite sect. The Mennonites, for the less theologically inclined, are a fringe Christian group who hate war and are surprisingly progressive. Brett has said that the group’s hymn sessions – the sound of prayer emanating through his brick and plaster – were a highlight of this whacked out phase in his life.
Travels in Japan shaped the album’s opener
The record’s hypnotic opener, ‘Introducing The Band’, was an attempt by Anderson to replicate the sound of the Buddhist monks he’d heard chanting in a Kyoto temple while Suede were touring Japan. The song name-checks ‘Europe, America, Winterland [the name of the venue in which the Sex Pistol’s made their final stand, in San Francisco in 1978]’ – but, nope, no mention of Japan.
‘We Are The Pigs’ is about revolution
Here’s Brett on the song ‘We Are The Pigs’: “[It’s] a warning to the middle classes that everyone they’re keeping under their feet is going to end up crushing their skulls. That was the idea behind it. It’s supposed to be quite a violent thing.”
‘The Asphalt World’ was originally a 25-minute epic considered “rude to the listener”
Many insist that the nine-minutes and 25 seconds of ‘The Asphalt World’ on side two of the record is ‘Dog Man Star’s’ shiniest jewel. Suede bass player Mat Osman has said that the song – largely conceived by the bands increasingly prog-obsessed guitarist Bernard Butler – was originally intended to be 25 minutes long, with an eight-minute guitar solo wedged into the mix. “Lots of the musical ideas were too much,” says Osman. “They were being rude to the listener: it was expecting too much of people to listen to them.”
Guitarist Bernard Butler hated the production
Recorded between March 22nd and July 26th, 1994, at Master Rock Studio’s in Kilburn, London, the recording of ‘Dog Man Star’ has become infamous for its tales of division between Butler and the rest of the band. Butler and Anderson, for so long a close, brotherly creative partnership in the Morrissey and Marr mould, were particularly divided in their view of the records direction. High on the list of Butler’s concerns was the reverb drenched production of Ed Buller. Time hasn’t mellowed his view either. As recently as 2005, the guitarist opined that the sometime Pulp producer made “a terrible, shoddy job of it.”
Tensions fuelled the recording…
Buller has said that Suede were rarely a unit in the studio during the album’s recording. Tensions between singer and guitarist were further frayed when Butler appeared on the cover of NME’s sister magazine Vox, strapped with the words ‘Brett drives me insane’. Inside, he lamented, “[Brett] isn’t a musician at all. It’s very difficult for him to get around anything that isn’t ABC.” Anderson recalls reading the Vox interview the same morning he was recording the vocals for ‘The Asphalt World’. It served as unlikely inspiration for one of the singer’s career best performances. “I remember trying to channel all this hurt that I was feeling and the iciness I was feeling into the vocal,” he said.
Butler walked out before the album was finished
Bernard Butler quit Suede on July 8, 1994, with ‘Dog Man Star’ not yet completed. Butler – who was keen on producing the album himself – gave the band’s label, Nude, their management and the rest of the group an ultimatum; either producer Ed Buller – who has said that during this time he received anonymous phonecalls, no speech, just the sound of scratching knives – was fired, or he walked. Suede stood firm in their commitment to Buller…
The split led to a frosty aftermath
The parting of Suede and Butler tests the limits of the word acrimonious. Turning up at the studio one day to retrieve his guitar, Butler has said that a discombobulated voice informed him, via the studio’s intercom, that his guitar would be left out in the street for him. During a final attempt by Suede manager Charlie Charlton to reconcile Butler and the band via conference call, Butler stroke a sword through Charlton’s best intentions by calling Brett “a fucking cunt”.
Butler hid secret messages in his remaining guitar parts
Because contractually Butler had to complete certain parts of songs, he did actually lay down some guitar parts after he’d left the band. He would refuse to do them at Master Rock, instead using his home studio. One was the record’s torch song, ‘Black Or Blue’. When it was sent to the band, Butler’s guitar parts now completed, Anderson recalled discovering a covert vocal laid deep down in the mix. “I can’t remember the exact words,” says Brett, “but it sounded vaguely threatening…”
The band weren’t keen on one song in particular
One song from ‘Dog Man Star’ which feels like everyone was downbeat on was ‘New Generation’, the third and final single to be taken from the album. Buller has said that the song was “in the wrong key” and that its drums and mix were “appalling”. Mat Osman has also said that the song suffers from the “murkiness of the mix”. In the song’s sepia video, Butler’s guitar part is ‘mimed to’ by incoming replacement Richard Oakes.
Butler’s father passed away prior to ‘Dog Man Star’
In defence of Butler’s behaviour, the creation of ‘Dog Man Star’ was preceded by the death of his father. With the band ready to embark on their second American tour, the band cancelled a week of shows, then flew back to London from New York for the week. When the tour resumed, the band split into two camps: the grieving Butler – who often travelled on support band The Cranberries bus – and the hedonistic others. It was a rift that would never be healed.
Butler wrote a song about grief, which ended up on this album’s reissue
Butler’s pain regarding his father’s passing was channelled into Suede’s brilliant 1994 stopgap single ‘Stay Together’ [the ‘long version’ of which is included on ‘Dog Man Star’s’ 2011 reissue], with the guitarist laying down track after track of guitar parts in the studio at the end of long days visiting his critically ill dad in hospital.
The guitarist hit a creative wall with this album
“I felt I couldn’t go any further with [‘Dog Man Star’] musically,” Butler told The Telegraph in 1998, on the eve of the release of his solo album, ‘People Move On’. “We were just never in the studio making music, there was so much else going on. I was always on my own, writing stuff that was getting wasted. Brett was too busy partying. When it came to recording there were so many things I wanted to do with these songs I’d spent an awful long time trying to mould, working out ideas and trying to challenge myself and challenge the band, and I just heard too many times, ‘No, you can’t do that’. I was sick to death of it. I think it’s a good record, but it could have been much better.”
There’s a happy accident on ‘The Asphalt World’
The snippet of dialogue you can hear at the end of ‘The Asphalt World’ is taken from the 1954 Technicolour drama ‘Woman’s World’. The voice speaking is that of Hollywood great Lauren Bacall; its inclusion was what producer Buller describes as ‘a happy accident’. During recording, Butler would record away from the rest of the band in a purpose-built lounge. At the beginning of the song Butler can be heard tuning the room’s portable TV. At the end, Bacall’s dialogue is heard as the guitarist is disinterestedly channel hopping.
‘The 2 Of Us’ didn’t always feature a flute
‘The 2 Of Us’ is, says Anderson, a song about loneliness, framed within wealth and fame. Brett has said the song features his favourite lyric on the album, “the snow might fall and write the line on the silent page”. Intriguingly, the song originally featured a recording of a tap dancer in the middle eight. It was ultimately replaced by a flute.
Suede started to go by a different name in the US
The album, and all subsequent releases by the band, was released under the name ‘The London Suede’ in the US. The reason? New York based singer Suzanne deBronkart – better known as Suede – had been using that name for some time before Brett and co. rocked up. Sony settled up out of court and the two parties were amicable. Probably because ‘The London Suede’ is an ace name for a band.
They picked a fairly abrasive first single
The first single from the album? Surprisingly, ‘We Are The Pigs’, it’s cover – a menacing masked mob, not usual Our Price fodder – taken from the 1981 West German comedy Freak Orlando. Bassist Mat Osman described the decision – having had his suggestion of ‘The Wild Ones’ shouted down – as “commercial suicide”. Interestingly, the song – or at least a mimed performance of it on Top Of The Pops on September 22, 1994 – was the first time the world saw Richard Oakes in Suede. He made his ‘proper’ debut at a fanclub gig in London on October 10th.
After ‘Dog Man Star’, Suede made a pop record
A new look Suede would remerge in 1996 for the release of their third album ‘Coming Up’ – adding to their ranks the Bernard Butler obsessed, teenage guitarist Richard Oakes, as well as keyboard player Neil Codling and his fabulous cheekbones. “It was a chance to do everything ‘Dog Man Star’ didn’t and make a bright, communicative album,” said Brett. “It’s like a pendulum: you go one way and then the other.” Butler, meanwhile, collaborated with singer David McAlmont upon leaving Suede (resulting in the classic single ‘Yes’), then went solo. He’s spent the last 25 collaborating with the likes of The Libertines, Duffy and Edwyn Collins.