Photo by: Nadia Gottfried
"It doesn’t matter how many times they grind us down. It doesn’t matter how many times they stamp us into the ground, because we always come back.
Because we’re the lovers on the street, and we’re the litter on the breeze"
- Brett Anderson
Written by: Andy Price
This pledge of defiance, from Suede’s frontman Brett Anderson, delivered to legions of fans at shows around the world, underlines a tenacity that has become one of the band’s enduring characteristics. Theirs is a story of both astonishing success and disastrous calamity. It’s also a tale of self-destruction and, ultimately, an unprecedented creative redemption. Along the way, Suede enchant a swathe of passionate devotees, while accidentally leading a revolution in British pop. Suede’s journey hasn’t always been an easy one, but it’s a mythology that’s every bit as arresting as the band’s music.
Born and raised in Lindfield, West Sussex, a short distance from the town of Haywards Heath, Brett’s teenage years were spent enthralled by music. As a teen, Anderson dabbled in various bands, accompanied by his good friend, and fellow music obsessive, Mat Osman. The pair established a tight bond and would eventually both head to University in London. While studying at University College London, Brett encountered Justine Frischmann. Driven by similar creative passions herself, Justine and Brett soon fell in love. In need of a new musical outlet, the triumvirate of Brett, Mat and Justine decided to form a band. Lacking a lead guitarist, the three put out an advertisement in NME, a call promptly answered by the prodigiously talented Bernard Butler.
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Following a string of under-attended gigs and performances, the fledgling Suede underwent a metamorphosis. As Brett and Justine’s relationship came to an abrupt and tumultuous end, so too did her time in Suede. Frischmann would later find fame as the linchpin of Elastica. During this period, Suede realised that they could no longer rely on an increasingly accident prone drum machine. They auditioned for a drummer – a call astonishingly answered by The Smiths’ very own Mike Joyce. Odd and exciting though this was, it was decided that having Joyce behind the kit would lead people to regard Suede as simply his star vehicle.
Finally taking the drum stool, and completing Suede’s line-up was Simon Gilbert. Then working for the University of London’s student union, alongside Suede’s then-manager – and future comedy superstar – Ricky Gervais. Knowing of his drumming prowess, Gervais played Gilbert the band’s demo tape, which immediately hooked him. With the four members now in place, Suede surged forward, penning the denser, more emotionally nuanced songs that would shape their destiny.
YOU’RE TAKING ME OVER
Honed by a relentless determination in the face of disinterest, economic scarcity as well as the weight of grief and heartbreak, Suede’s sound and aesthetic was purposefully, jarringly out of step with early 1990’s popular culture, but for Nude Records label boss Saul Galpern, Suede appeared to be a band that was worth taking a chance on, feeling that within that embryonic shell lay the seeds of something extraordinary. Using the skilled production nouse of Ed Buller, the band assembled a salvo of remarkable singles that seized the attention of the music press.
The triumphant stomp of 'The Drowners', the sleazy back alley glam of 'Metal Mickey' and the eccentric savagery of 'Animal Nitrate' served as a multi-edged mission statement, whilst their respective videos foregrounded Anderson’s androgynous image. Suede stood in combative contrast to the then-dominant masochism of American rock, and the studied lethargy of Britain’s shoegaze-era. Here, at last, was a homegrown band fizzing with that same special chemistry that had defined British pop’s key groundbreakers, filling a vacuum that had been largely void since the dissolution of The Smiths some five years earlier. Plaudits from numerous vocal advocates followed. Not least the ever-restrained Melody Maker, who unequivocally defined them as ‘The Best New Band in Britain’ on their cover.
Melody Maker, 25 April 1992
By the time Suede’s self-titled debut album materialised, the hyperbole was justified. Its finest moments illustrated the exceptional synergy between Bernard Butler’s expressive guitar work alongside the soaring vocals and astute, original lyrics of Brett Anderson. Ranging from the fragile beauty of 'Sleeping Pills', the frenetic mania of 'Moving' and the album’s pulsating heart – 'Pantomime Horse', the debut was a dynamic and multi-faceted magnifying glass on the murk and pain beneath the surface of early 90s British life. Themes of isolation, sexuality’s many spectrums, class constriction and ambition swam throughout its 11 songs. Suede’s fourth single, and the album’s opening cut, 'So Young' was another masterstroke, melding both the joy de vivre of youthful abandon with a sense of warm nostalgia.
It would become the fastest-selling debut album for a decade, and went on to be a worthy recipient of the Mercury Music Prize in 1993. Though the band themselves despised the labelling, Suede’s early work would retrospectively mark the opening chapter of the ‘Britpop’-era. Suede had little in common with many of the later groups that better embodied (and celebrated) the term, yet Suede were at the vanguard of these 90s bands who consciously harked back to those great foundational British pop artists – David Bowie, Roxy Music, The Smiths. Invoking the spirit of a time when the nations’ best-selling talent sought to smuggle songs of greater depth into the fickle landscape of the charts.
On stage, Suede’s songs came to captivating life. As Butler uncompromisingly hammered his Gibson 355, Anderson alternatively writhed and yelped, and unleashed his powerful vocal prowess when required. Thundered forward by the lifeblood of Gilbert’s ferocious drumming, and Osman’s melodic basslines, Suede proved a formidable live act. The concert film Love & Poison, shot at Brixton Academy in 1993, showcases their outstanding early on-stage power.
Suede, 'Love & Poison'
INTO THE NIGHT
This early success would soon run into an abrupt buffer as, during the making of their follow-up, Bernard Butler left the group. Though the wounds have long-since healed, at the time it would be a near-fatal blow for four men that had seen their star only recently go supernova. At the heart of the decision lay the fact that Butler’s ambitious approach to songwriting had deepened, and the young guitarist began thinking in more grandiose terms when it came to arrangements (as evidenced by the bombast of utterly mesmerising, non-album single 'Stay Together'). His conviction to push Suede into new frontiers jarred with his fellow band members.
The divergence widened throughout the recording of the second album. Eventually, a final ultimatum was made by Butler; if the rest of the group didn’t side with his desire to recruit a new producer, he would leave. At an impasse, the band chose to not fold to such a choice. And so sadly, Bernard departed the group. Butler’s talents would quickly lead him to establish a successful songwriting partnership with David McAlmont, before embarking on a long-lasting career as songwriter, record producer and renowned guitar-smith for a vast array of artists.
But, back in 1994, Suede faced the wretched position of launching a new record as the press circled hungrily overhead. A surprise to all then, that despite the dire studio tensions, ‘Dog Man Star’, decimated expectations and marked the creative pinnacle of the Anderson/Butler partnership. For some, it still stands tall as Suede’s finest record.
The very differences and strains that had resulted in such a grim regime change gave birth to an abundance of Suede’s outright masterpieces. Examples of which include the maniacal visions of totalitarian meltdown in 'We Are The Pigs’, the heart-tugging elegance of the romantic 'The Wild Ones' and the contorted tale of jealousy housed within Suede’s most outlandish track to date, 'The Asphalt World'. Despite the record’s musical breadth, its more introspective tone contrasted with the then rising tide of cartoonish, hedonistic Britpop, and it commercially stalled.
The unenviable task of replacing Bernard Butler seemed inconceivable to any and all – aside from the band themselves. Going back to their old tactic, the three advertised for a new guitarist within the small ads in the music press. Among the many respondents was the 17-year-old Richard Oakes. Despite his youth, Richard was already a versatile and characterful guitarist, and had been a big fan of Suede’s first album. The band were astounded by what they heard, and put their stock in his ability, a decision that would ultimately prove very wise indeed. Oakes joined the band to tour Dog Man Star and was soon winning adoration the world over for both his gifted abilities, and his youthful charm.
Photo by: Renaud Monfourny. Submitted by: Amanda Blazier
HERE THEY COME
With this vacant spot now filled, Suede embarked on their third record. During the initial recording sessions, the studio was visited by Simon’s cousin, Neil Codling. Ostensibly dropping in to borrow a suit, Codling casually revealed his advanced prowess as a pianist. After a handful of impromptu jams, it was soon obvious that Neil’s appearance was nothing short of a godsend Codling was soon absorbed into Suede’s number, bolstering the band’s sound with keys, synths, backing vocals and additional guitar.
By 1996, Suede were literally a new band – underlined by their shared leather-jacket clad appearance. This new gang’s approach to songwriting too had a much different focus. Having recently proved his merit as a live guitarist, Richard was now tasked with writing some ‘hits’. But could his unproven songwriting ability pass muster?
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Yes, it very much could. 1996’s ‘Coming Up’ was a vibrant pop statement, and a satisfying, stellar success. Its title reflected the guiding purpose of the record. In lieu of the atmospheric, autumnal twilight of its predecessor, ‘Coming Up’ was packed with ebullient, bright hooks, enduring melodies and an almost aggressively positive zeal. Of the album’s five top ten singles, two would become definitive set staples: 'Trash' and 'Beautiful Ones' both served as anthemic rallying calls for Suede’s loyal tribe, and were neatly written pop singles to boot. The former smashed its way to number 3 in the singles chart. ‘Coming Up’ easily seized the top spot in the UK and was an international smash. Suede had proved their cynics and naysayers thoroughly wrong. Once again, Suede resumed their place among the UK’s premier league.
As if further evidence needed to be required, the band’s B-side collection, ‘Sci-Fi Lullabies’ underscored the band’s imperial phase, and emphasised that even when penning contractually obliged B-sides, Suede all-too frequently came up with solid gold material.
OCEANS BETWEEN US
Following up such a triumph proved trickier than the band anticipated. With the intention of crafting a record that updated the spirit of the great indie/dance crossover albums that dominated a decade previously. The band enlisted Happy Mondays’ former producer Steve Osborne to produce their fourth LP; the electronically-tinged ‘Head Music’.
While the bulk of the early compositions were undeniably strong, the making of ‘Head Music’ fell into disarray. Drug addiction mired Brett’s focus and quality control. The rest of the band would all experience their own difficulties when making the album, not least Neil Codling. Despite taking a more prominent place at the songwriting table, a debilitating illness rendered him chronically fatigued as the album’s production neared its end.
These issues were sadly evidenced throughout the resulting album. Suede’s least coherent record to date, album four’s best moments really shone; the intoxicated delirium of 'Can’t Get Enough', the glacial, despondent 'Down' and the dawning serenity of 'Everything Will Flow' are on a par with the band’s finest work. But elsewhere, ‘Head Music’ was littered with the scars of Brett’s addled mind state, and a fatal lack of attention. This aside, ‘Head Music’ still managed to reach the summit of the album charts, as its predecessor had done three years previously.
As the century turned, so too did Suede’s fortunes. Despite kicking his addiction, Brett’s creative momentum had stalled, as evidenced by the repeated delays to Suede’s fifth record, eventually seeing light of day in 2002 – and into a largely changed musical landscape. ‘A New Morning’ had many things riding against it. Neil had left the band due to the increasing health difficulties, and was replaced with Strangelove’s Alex Lee. The group were unable to settle on a producer, and more popular interest in Suede had waned following the divisive ‘Head Music’.
Concurrently, a widespread cultural divorce from those bands tarred with the Britpop brush was taking place. Though perhaps the most terminal aspect of the record’s fortunes was the sad fact that the end result simply wasn’t up to Suede’s usual standard. Though single 'Obsessions' and the (perplexingly) hidden album closer 'Oceans' were firm reminders of the band’s magic, it wasn’t enough to save the rest of the album from being a disappointment overall. Following the muted reception by the British music press, and a general sense of disenfranchisement from fans, it was clear some distance was required. Following a career-spanning Singles compilation and a farewell string of live dates, culminating at a heart-breaking sign-off show at the Astoria, Suede split.
THE LOVE IS LIFTING
It would be seven long years until we’d hear from the band again. During that time, Brett surprised all by re-uniting with Bernard Butler in a new guise as The Tears. An intriguing project that resulted in a well-received album, and a top ten single in 'Refugees'. However, The Tears debut proved to be a one-off affair. Brett devoted the remainder of the 2000s to an eclectic solo career, making four, rather under-appreciated, records that many would retrospectively view as vital creative stepping stones, filled with sublime examples of his maturing songwriting ability and vocal control. But, these weren’t Suede records. As each year passed, former fans resigned themselves to the fact that the Suede book had been firmly closed.
A shock to all then, when in 2010, Suede – in their ‘Coming Up’-era line-up – announced that they were reforming. Initially asked to just get together to play for a one-off, Teenage Cancer Trust benefit show at the Royal Albert Hall, the band didn’t anticipate the rapturous reception that greeted their career-best performance. Reinvigorated, the five opted to carry on playing live dates throughout 2011. Suede’s momentum was back, and once again the band had defied all expectations. To stress the point that this was no simple money-spinning reunion tour, Suede thrillingly announced that they were now set on making a brand new record.
Royal Albert Hall, 24 March 2010, Photo by: Edwin De La Cruz
Impassioned, impactful and blazing with a fire many had thought long extinguished, 2013’s ‘Bloodsports’ was an assured return. At its best, it fused the gnarled depths of ‘Dog Man Star’ with the instant hooks of ‘Coming Up’, but was quite clearly the product of wiser, and more experienced heads. Suede’s comeback sixth record hit the top ten, crystallising the reformed band as a resuscitated creative entity. During the intense live tour for the record, an effortless cool and compelling energy re-captured the attention of older fans, and reeled in a new younger audience.
It would have been easy, then, for Suede to have accepted this new, more fitting close to their story, yet encouraged by fan support, and with the clear road of creative freedom now stretched before them, the band leapt into their seventh album. The twisted, sumptuous ‘Night Thoughts’ was released in 2016, in tandem with a Roger Sargent-directed film that dramatised a narrative influenced by the album’s twelve tracks, ‘Night Thoughts’ was met with a shower of praise and became an immediate fan-favourite work. Its conceptual sequencing, repeated musical refrains and creative sound design were evidence of Suede’s further growth into a more progressive domain than ever before. Fundamentally, the record retained its solid Anderson, Oakes and Codling songwriting foundation, with tracks such as 'I Don’t Know How To Reach You', 'The Fur and the Feathers' and 'Tightrope' all incredible moments amid another creative high point for the band. It even boasted one of Suede’s bona-fide modern classics. Lead single 'Outsiders', updated the unifying spirit of 'Trash' for the 2010s and quickly jostled itself into the band’s live setlist as a new staple.
YOU’RE NEVER ALONE
Now in his fifties, and a married father of two, Brett Anderson reflected on his extraordinary life with an honest account of his childhood, presented in his bestselling memoir ‘Coal Black Mornings’, released in 2018 which was soon joined by second volume the following year; ‘Afternoons With the Blinds Drawn’. This follow-up documented Suede’s twists, turns and cataclysms with wit, humanity and surprising candour.
Suede had endured much through their nearly thirty-year lifespan. Despite the numerous blows that would have incapacitated other outfits, Suede’s relentless perseverance pushed them onward.
‘The Blue Hour’, concluded Suede’s fruitful revived decade masterfully. Album eight was a bucolic, folk-horror tinged concept record that flowed on well from its predecessor. Taking listeners on a captivating musical journey into the trees, in pursuit of a missing child. It found Suede transcending their already abundant song canon with the pulse-pounding 'Tides', the punk ferocity of 'Cold Hands', and the widescreen magnificence of closer 'Flytipping'. Though the album’s most impeccable moment discarded the album’s overarching narrative concerns and reflected the simple, pure love of parent and child. The classic song structure of 'Life is Golden' was instantly accessible, and its rousing lyric also seemed to encapsulate the lifelong bond of the fan community. Its lyrics that gave solace, and definition to thousands of listeners. Inconceivably, after thirty years, Suede had crafted a new set-closing, signature song.
TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH
A new decade called for a refresh, and for album nine, the band opted to shelve the more ostentatious leanings of the preceding two records, writing material that had more of a short, sharp, punkish spirit, while still consciously operating within Suede’s nuanced world. The writing of the album that would become ‘Autofiction’ began shortly after ‘The Blue Hour’ was delivered, but an unexpected global pandemic put on the brakes, meaning that the record took a far greater amount of time to see the light of day. Premiered at the end of a notably euphoric anniversary tour for ‘Coming Up’, ‘She Still Leads Me On’ was the first taste of Suede’s interpretation of punk, marrying a motoring guitar riff with an affecting lyric wherein Brett sang of his mother’s enduring influence.
In early September 2022, and under the secret moniker of ‘Crushed Kid’, Suede performed their yet to be released album to a small group of fans and press at tiny venues The Moth Club and The Deaf Institute in Hackney and Manchester respectively. Wowing - and near-deafening - all in attendance with a jaw-dropping clutch of energetic songs, it was clear that Suede’s recent purple patch was in no danger of being over.
Indeed, when ‘Autofiction’ was finally released a few weeks later, many proclaimed it as one of Suede’s very best albums to date. Among its finest moments – the janky intensity of the electrifying ‘Personality Disorder’, the shadowy goth-punk swagger of ‘Shadow Self’ and, at the record’s centre, the graceful beauty of the piano-led ‘Drive Myself Home’.
“Your love makes me burn” cried Anderson during fan-directed tenth track “What Am I Without You?” cementing the all-important connectivity between band and audience as the vital lifeblood which still keeps Suede’s fire ablaze.
As for Suede’s future, it remains as unpredictable and giddily exciting as it has ever been, with rumblings of a tenth album in the works, and a long-awaited US tour looming as the year ends. There’s never been a better time to be the litter on the breeze.