Let's Get Sirius (Dog Man Star Review)
8 October 1994
Submitted by: Inge Klinkers
LET’S GET SIRIUS
Finally, then, the eagerly awaited follow-up album from The Best New Band In Britain, fronted by a playfully androgynous bisexual man who has never had a... hey, you already know the whole story. And that just might be Suede's problem, reckons DAVID STUBBS
DOG MAN STAR
Nude 3 CD 12 tks/58 mins/FP
SO much has been said, so much media light shed on Suede that it's as if they've been around a lot longer than they actually have. They've been invested with so much meaning, pumped up with so much hype, so well-nourished with a sense of pop history and Brett's own knowingness, made to eat so much shit by the enemies they've made that they emerge after merely one album as an over-inflated proposition. It's as if The Beatles' career had been compressed so that they leapt straight from "With The Beatles" to "Let It Be".
"Dog Man Star" is a grandiose album, all elegance and decadence. It makes full use of a hired orchestra, which is deployed very well - indeed, Ed Buller's production of this album overall is excellent. It's also a rather grand conceit that at once gives this album an air of thinking a little too highly of itself but also gives it a fin de siècle feel, as if this is the last album they'll ever make. The last track, "Still Life", sounds defiantly valedictory - "I'll go into the night, into the night/She and i into the night" - a bit like Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night".
This is a big album, in every respect. Brett's voice is bigger, with the snagging, nagging edge taken off his usual cockney vowels. On "The 2 Of Us" and "The Wild Ones", for instance, he allows himself, is allowed, to sing in his own, fuller, plummier voice. Bernard's guitars are in there big time, too. Quite often, his fretboard seems to be chattering to itself or rambling off on its own, or competing against the great orchestral tides - all of these signs of his disenchantment with the band, his desire to strike out on his own. But he doesn't strike any discordant notes - he adds his weight "Dog Man Star" is also well loaded in that it clocks in at just under an hour, probably outstaying its welcome at that. So, here we are. Have Suede outstayed their welcome? Are they this big? Do they deserve to garland themselves with the Shirley Bassey treatment? Is this album any good? Do you lot still give a toss?
Yes it is, though its souffle sags at times. "Dog Man Star" sets out in a nasty mood with the sardonic "Introducing The Band". As with the single, "We Are The Pigs", it sees Brett snarling back in the general direction of Suede's detractors. "Chic thug stuttered through a stereo dream/A 50-knuckle shuffle heavy metal machine..."sneers Brett, more Syd Barrett than Bowie, as Bernard gets to unleash a magisterial guitar salute. "Steal me a savage, subservient son/Get him shacked up, bloodied up and sucking on a gun/1 want the style of a woman, the kiss of a man". Though Brett states categorically that this song is not about Kurt, it could well be (even down to the androgynous bit). It accurately depicts the world of corporate rock rebellion, consumed and frustrated by the futility of its rage. But it has wider applications.
"Dog Man Star" is much about this sort of thing - the tragic dislocation between glamour, hope, aspiration, exaltation and the realities of disappointment, alienation, mundanity, anti-climax. Check the cover sleeve, featuring an androgynous nude lying on the mattress of his drab bedroom, as some winged, oriental beast against the net curtains bears aloft his/her wet dreams. "Heroine" is about porn, some saddo in a bedsit unable to form any real relationship wanking off over some old pic of Marilyn Monroe ("Pornographic and tragic in black and white /My Marilyn come to my slum for an hour"). The chorus line, "I'm aching for my heroine" is strangely reminiscent of The Velvet Underground, some hybrid of "Heroin" and "Waiting For My Man", suggesting to me subliminally a new generation of post-modern junkies, hooked on a vanished notion of glamour lost in the anticlimactic Nineties.
"Daddy's Speeding" is ostensibly about James Dean and is marred by a slightly silly sonic recreation of his accelerating vehicle crashing at full tilt. But it's more about the fact that he "crashed and left us here" - another lament, perhaps, that our previous, glamorous, promiscuous forebears had all the fun before popping off and leaving us to pick up the post-modern pieces.
But then there's "The Wild Ones", a defiantly pro-pop song ("We'll shine like the morning and sin in the sun... we'll be the wild ones, running with the dogs today”), which suggests there's fun still to be had, with Bernard's carwash cascade of guitars working up a merry lather. (For Bernard, incidentally, this album is the equivalent of a Bowie leap from pre-Ziggy Stardust to something circa "Low").
"Power" is lightweight and very Morrissey like in its mischievous swollen-headedness, a call to the lost children of the world starving for kicks. "Just give me, give me the power/And I'll make them bleed/Give me, give me the power /(Although I'm just the common breed)."
It's in its latter furlongs, however, that Man Star" slows down, stares wistfully out of the window, spreads its wings and takes flight. "The 2 Of Us" is all of Suede's virtues and vices encapsulated. I can't quite hurdle some of the bedsit doggerel ("Two silhouettes by the cash machine make a lovers' dance/It's a tango for the lonely wives of the business class") and it slavishly follows all of the received contours of the orchestral pop/epic treatment. But when Brett soars to the line, "It could be the 2 of us", all scepticism dissolves in a cold bath of poignancy.
"Black Or Blue" is similarly, grandly lovelorn, an account of a doomed, transient relationship- "She left some flowers, he smoked for hours"- that defies the parochial, Brit-stigma attached to Suede ("I don't care for the UK tonight so stay, stay!"). But the girl is not British, so she can't.
On "The Asphalt World", Brett paints an icy picture of a modern-day Narcissus who maintains a photogenic remoteness even when she's sharing a bed: "Where does she go?/What does she do?/And how does she feel when she's in your bed... is it me or you?" Often depicted as a neo-glam poseur, Brett has always been concerned about such artifice, about those unable to maintain "living, breathing, forting relationships".
Unfortunately, at over nine minutes, "The Asphalt World" over-indulges its longeurs, taking a little too long to decay in all its finery.
"Dog Man Star" makes no concessions to those who haven't already pitched their tent in Camp Suede (uh-huh, huhhuh). If you loathed them before, you'll loathe this. “Dog Man Star", while fine, is certainly a bit much, but then the whole point about Brett is that he's a bit much, Something Else. it is conceited, but there's more courage in this sort of conceit than in mumbling modesty. My only worry is that Suede already sound like this - epic, elegaic, over-full of themselves.
Is there life after "Dog Man Star"?