SUEDE - GENTLEMEN TIME, PLEASE!
Submitted by: Hagar Itzikson
Never mind The Smiths, here's...yep, you've guessed it. Suede are so hot you could fry an egg on them, but they're far more than just a foppish pop cavalry, they spearhead a burgeoning British movement that turns up its nose at witless slacker culturecide and waggles its arse at Uncle Sam. Brace yourselves, we're going over the top...
TONY PARSONS HAS FORGOTTEN MORE about rock journalism than most of us will ever know. But when, in expansive mood and trying to convey the impact of Suede to the readers of his posh newspaper column recently, he said that their imminent first LP would be "the most long-awaited debut album since 'Never Mind The Bollocks’”. Boy, did he get it wrong.
By the time the Pistols got around to making an album hadn't everyone twigged that they were The Grumbleweeds of punk? Didn't everyone realise that you were going to get 'Anarchy In The UK’ fed 12 times through a dodgy photocopier and a rude title if you were lucky? What Tony meant to say was “the most eagerly awaited debut album since The Smiths'," a comparison that makes much more sense: two bands whose early singles, dripping with wayward sexuality, grandeur and the eternal loser's clear, cracking sincerity have rescued English pop from the doldrums. Sorry for the gratuitous Smiths scene so early on, but it really was vital to the plot.
Some people will say. The Sex Pistols comparison holds water. The Pistols were pop tarts surfing a wave of innuendo, contrivance and manipulation. They hid a non-existent talent behind a cynically engineered image. They were conmen who could only pull their little stunts with the conspiratorial backing of the music press, eyes always peeled for a passing bandwagon. These same people probably think Tina Turner is a ‘sexee ladee’ and that Noel Edmonds is a great entertainer.
Perhaps Suede are a little like the Sex Pistols. London guttersnipes intent on revenge, on a culture too sluggish to care. But they are even more like The Smiths in that they are making records of such passion, such bravura, such flair that they make us see that we have lived on milk and water for two years while English guitar pop has become a watchword for mediocrity.
They are still more like King Arthur's knights, awoken from their slumbers beneath the land by, news that England is imperilled. They have come to save you.
THE MEN WHO HAVE COME TO SAVE POP music are draped around the reading room of a gentlemen's club in London. It is a queer room, half-lit by the watery sunlight of a Soho afternoon. There are rocking chairs, chaises longues, tea trays and on the walls, lurid over-priced pastel drawings of Auberon Waugh and various assorted nobs. It's shabby genteel, weird and secret and very English, and somehow funny. Perfect.
Perfect because the men who have come to save pop are using as their weaponry certain qualities, certain characteristics of English culture that have lain dormant since the heyday of The Smiths. Some of Suede's portfolio may appear trivial - the blousy image, the hair oil and fringes, the hipster jeans and brocade shirts - but it underlines the aspects of Suede that are anything but superficial, the things that make them a salvation. English guitar pop, a brief and glorious post-war tradition that has produced as much great art as any other cultural sphere, was ailing. The Madchester scene had congealed into something called baggy; a suspicious catch-all term for lots of young and not-so-young men who had nothing to say but had been given substantial amounts of money by desperate major labels to say it.
We had been offered shoe-gazing, a so-called movement that elevated mediocrity into an art, pseudo ambient drug blather for wets. And at least New Age music has a philosophy, however gormless. Add to that The Word, the complete enfeebling of chart pop, the Top Of The Pops presenters and the idiotic bounciness of most indie-pop, and it looked like English pop could really die out. After all, music hall had been the great working class art form of the last century, and it had disappeared without a trace. Couldn't it happen to pop groups? Maybe Jim Bob And Fruitbat would go the same way as Marie Lloyd and the india rubber man.
But now a new scenario is just possible. One in which English pop is redeemed from ignominy by The Auteurs and Saint Etienne, etc. And, of course, Suede; now hailed on every street corner and every wine bar for what once seemed to be a solitary and Canute-like stand against senility and Americanisation. These days they must feel invincible.
"Yes, I do feel invincible," says Brett, sipping at his tea in the freezing cold basement of a veggie cafe in Carnaby Street. "I know that's a silly and rash thing to say and I'm just asking to be shot in the ankle, but I do. I think some of our new songs are the best things we've ever done. I'm very confident and that's good because I can start to play silly mental games with myself. Thinking that if I change my hair or my guitar strings we'll never write another good song."
Mat Osman, Suede's affable, waggish bass player is fully aware that his life has taken an irrevocable step now.
"I can't imagine working again. I think it would be the saddest thing imaginable. 'Ere, that clerk over there. Didn't he used to be in a band? Or becoming an A&R man. I don't want to think about it."
"It would be tragic if the band suddenly plummeted," agrees Brett. "I'd have to just go off and be a star in a completely different way. Become a complete hermit. That has seemed attractive, still does actually. Utter insanity has always seemed quite attractive as well."
None of the options need worry him at the moment. Suede have the world at their feet. Their debut album will have more of a bearing on guitar pop, hopefully, than anything since, yes, since 'Never Mind The Bollocks' or 'The Smiths' or 'The Stone Roses', by the great lost hopes who threatened to revamp our dying national art and then forgot that they had to make records to achieve this. The Suede album should have an immediate effect on a generation. Legions of imitators called Chamois and Chintz will follow and we will hate them all. And Suede will become rich and cosseted and their records will be rubbish. Brett?
"Well, we're very wary of this. The backlash will start when we start to make rubbish, and we don't intend that to happen. You can get away with murder if you've got good songs," he adds with a twinkle.
"But we're wary of letting go of our lives and ending up on building sites like Sigue Sigue Sputnik. The songs will change and that's good. We don't want to end up like the Stones, never developing their style at all. As our lifestyles change so will our songs.
"I'm looking forward to the highs and lows. In fact, they're changing already. A song like 'Big Time' couldn't have been written at the start. It's musically quite immature but very emotional about the nature of fame.
"But we don't want our songs to only apply on that definite a level, we're not going to write songs about the lack of vegetarian food on the plane...all those Mott The Hoople songs about the pain of being a rock 'n' roll star. ‘Big Time' isn't that specific. It's about being left behind. Life passing by with nothing achieved. Something I feel very strongly. Every year I'd think, Another birthday and I still haven't been on Top Of The Pops. But it could be about our parents. My dad rotting away in his house; 51 years old and having never had a bank balance of more than £1,000."
This sense of kinship with the ordinary and the neglected is characteristic of Suede. Mat speaks passionately of wanting to appeal to people "with no sense of rock history. People who just listen to the radio. You emasculate music when you think you understand it. So I don't want our music to be just enjoyed by people who are looking to spot the references. I want it to be loved by people who don't give a damn what we talk about."
Although, as Brett points out, "It's very flattering to be analysed so much."
SUEDE ARE SET TO BE ANALYSED TO death. On South Bank Showspecials, in GCSE projects, in fanzines and in colour supplements. It's started already. The New Year edition of the Telegraph Magazine carried a rather odd, supercilious appreciation of them as being among the "faces of the year". It was clear that they really didn't understand. But when the self-designated quality papers feel the need to "appreciate", then clearly something has galvanised the media. Suede certainly have.
But this is no hype. Suede have achieved this by virtue of producing those three singles, a tiny, precious body of work. If Johnny Rotten was the anti-Christ, Suede are the anti-Madonna. The antithesis of her neurotic exhibitionism, her lurid in-your-face sexuality, her crap records, her Americanism.
"I do think," says Brett, "that some aspects of our Englishness have been cartoonised. We are incredibly English, but it's just one facet of what we're about."
"...He says, pushing his tea-cup away," chides Mat. "We're not painstakingly English. We don't refer to Morris Minors...although we do mention Worthing."
"It's more of a quality," muses Brett. "Some convoluted sense of paranoia and claustrophobia. Growing up in small-town England where you had to be a skin or a punk or a headbanger or a nobody."
Are you still baffled by America?
"Completely," asserts Brett with a smile. "I still don't understand why people dress like that. Why English bands persist in Americanising themselves. I don't understand why American music has to be so military and aggressive. Look at Henry Rollins; he's like a Sergeant Major or something."
"It's not as much Americanisation that worries me as globalisation," says Mat. "I was in Vienna recently and really I could have been anywhere. I'm the only one who eats in McDonald's and it bothers me the most. How everything has to become uniform and bland."
"Hence Guns N' Roses are the biggest group in the world..." agrees Brett sadly.
Suede's music, thankfully, is in no danger of become homogenised and bland. It's still incandescent with sadness for wasted time, with the rage of the underdog.
"We're still quite a bitter band," agrees Mat. "There's an element of revenge in everything we do. We're quite loved now but we still treat ourselves as if everyone hates us. You can't go through a childhood and adolescence like I did and lose it completely. So we do feel in touch with our fans who are perhaps experiencing the disappointments of ordinary life.
"That's what makes me really angry when that guy from Tears For Fears says he wishes he was plumber. He can be: take the exams, get some spanners. Unless he really means it, he shouldn't say it. Cos it's unfair on all the people listening who don't have his choices.
"If you don't like being recognised in the street, then don't do photo-sessions. It's as simple as that. You can't have your picture on magazine covers and then complain about being famous. You can't have your cake and eat it," he concludes, with genuine anger.
"Getting recognised is a beautiful thing. Enjoy it. It's not as if you're famous for being a rapist or something," concurs Brett.
Mat is loath to sound like a "singing social worker" but he does believe that Suede may have empowered people. "We get lots of letters —normal letters, not just those unhealthy, obsessive ones — and people often say we have given them some hope. There's nothing lonelier than small-town England. At school I thought there was no one in the world like me. It's a frightening thought. By liking Suede, some people feel part of a community. They know there're other people like them out there and it stops them thinking they're a mutation or a spy in the midst of the human race. You can find some beauty in a sense of deviance or unhappiness. And that's a feeling in our songs that just isn't represented in contemporary music."
MAT BELIEVES THAT BANDS WHO WAFFLE on in interviews about how good they are and then don't deliver the goods deserve to be beaten up in the street. This will not happen to Suede. They stand revealed as the heirs to a lineage that includes The Beatles, The Kinks, the Buzzcocks, The Fall and The Smiths. Their debut album (due out next month, and presently under the working title 'Suede') will feed appetites in you that you'd forgotten you had; for English music that reflects brilliantly the joy, viciousness and melancholy of life on these shores.
"I hope people are counting the days," says Mat. "I hope they've set their alarms already and are going to queue outside the record shops. It's an important record for all of us. It's a distillation of 25 years of being on Earth. So the next one's going to be much, much worse.
"Or much, much shorter anyway!”
Never mind the bollocks. Here's Suede.