SUEDE THE BEST NEW BAND IN BRITAIN
25 April 1992
Submitted by: Caroline McSweeney
"MY FANTASY HAS ALWAYS BEEN TO HAVE A SONG ABOUT some bizarre sexual experience in the Top 10.”
There's a stray fleck of silver glitter on the dry outside edge of Brett Anderson's lower lip. It's catching the sun and sparkling. "Y'know, a song that people are going round singing and then it suddenly dawns on them what it’s about.”
I'm tempted to tell Brett about the glitter, but I don't. I just watch it winking back at the sun as he talks and | wonder how on earth it got there. This is a very Suede moment, by the way.
“What a powerful, brilliant thing that would be," he’s saying. “To have a top 10 single like that." I ask him why. I can't take my eyes off that damn glitter.
"Ah," he smiles, and tiny lines appear under his eyes. “Now there's a difficult question.
Why? Do I have to answer that?"
I tell him it’s absolutely imperative.
“Oh. Okay. Well, it's nothing to do with power. It's nothing to do with naughtiness, either. He laughs a little, confidential laugh. "It's probably something to do wiih a personal touch of perversity. I've just always been fascinated with the idea of subverting the masses because, well, to achieve that means you're really something special, doesn't it? I mean, if every song in the Top 40 was doing that, there wouldn’tbe much point, would there? It wouldn't count for anything. It’s just about being a bit different. Yeah, I think that's it - it's just about being different."
He sips his bitter lemon and licks his pale, thin lips. The glitter eludes his snaking tongue. The sun’s still glinting off that glitter.
OKAY. Okay. So who the f*** are Suede and what the f*** are they doing on the cover of the Maker? Fair questions both. Suede are only the most audacious, androgynous, mysterious, sexy, ironic, absurd, perverse, glamorous, hilarious, honest, cocky, melodramatic, mesmerising band you're ever likely to fall in love with. That's why they're up there, out front, seeing off the likes of Carter and The Cure. Suede are a pop group which means that, on May 11, when “The Drowners", their debut single, is released on the new Nude label, they will be without question, at that particular moment in your life, the best, the most bright and beautiful, in fact the only band on the whole planet that actually matters. In an ideal world, pop groups would be like that. But it's not an ideal world, it's just that Suede are the ideal band for raking through the rubble of our broken dreams.
Listen and rejoice "People say nothing can be said anymore. People say that everything's been said. How defeatist is that? Art is an expression of humanity and, just because people have been saying the same things for two thousand years doesn't rob those things of their potency. You can't just give up on it. There's always different ways of saying the same things. There's always emotion. Intensity's still there.
" I think it's a real cop-out when bored people become musicians and then make an excuse for the fact that they're not saying anything. It's as if they feel that music should be saying something, realise that they're not, and then create an intellectual standpoint around it."
I guess you can gather, as Brett flicks Bryan Ferry's fringe from his eyes that Suede aren't exactly shoegazers.
"I don't believe in that attitude at all. I believe that humanity is a brilliant, extremely emotional thing that should be explored. And music's part of that. We're incredibly positive about things. We're not just a reaction against last year's bands, we've got a lot more depth than that. Our whole attitude is incredibly positive, incredibly hopeful."
"There's a choice," says towering bassist, Mat Osman. "You can either say, "Well, the world around me is blank, so I'll just give into the logic of it all-y'know, theoretically life is blank so let it be blank - which is what everyone seems to be doing, just giving in. Or you can take a gigantic leap of faith and say, 'I don't believe that. I believe life can be fascinating, extraordinary and absurd'. And, if you take that leap of faith and believe it, you can change your life. You shouldn't be scared to do it. Take the risk. That's what we're doing in a way, taking that risk."
"That's it," says Bernard Butler, the porcelain-skinned, hawk-nosed guitarist. "Being in Suede is being alive in the most alive way possible."
SUEDE are on the cover of the Maker because they stick out of '92 like an arse spanked sore on the leather back seat and then thrust through the window of a passing Rolls Royce. They probably deserve their sudden pre-eminence solely because they are brave enough not to follow prevalent fashion. In other words, they don't sing about trees and clouds, they don't wannabe American and they don't attempt to pass off
apathy as psychedelia. On the contrary (and, oh, they are very contrary), instead of proposing that entertainment should be some relief, some flight from the drudgery and disappointments of reality, they are obsessively and gorgeously superreal, zooming the lens of their songs in on our every magazine wank and fumble round the back of the bus stop until the sorry details of our desperate liaisons become alien acts of beauty, become art.
"It's the difference between escaping from your life into some kind of never-never land like all these bands do-aspiring to some unattainable drugged-out state or yearning for some unattainable woman-and escaping into your own life, escaping into the real world," says Mat. "I mean, reality is bizarre and weird and romantic and strange and, if you're going to escape, there's a thousand places 50 yards from here to go that would be far more bizarre than taking a ton of LSD."
"It's like exploring your own kitchen instead of becoming an astronaut or something," laughs Brett, purveyor of a suspiciously hysterical and seductively reptilian cockney croon. "It's finding some interesting pieces of mould rather than a new solar system."
But there's loads more to Suede than the fact that they're strangers in this strange land. They are also spies in our house of love, deliberately, and brazenly and unflinchingly sexual. At a time when f***ing (or s***ing or whatever) - surely still the most potent metaphor for our intellect's helpless surrender to instinct (ie brief intense release) - has been usurped by dance music's harmony of the herd, or bowdlerized by romantic pop cliché, or strong-armed into comic book rape by the neanderthal metal grunters, Suede have molested sex and forced it to act as a prime song stimulant.
"We're addressing the real issues of sexuality. We're talking about the used condom as opposed to the beautiful bed. At the moment, I feel as though we're this big striped beast, this lunging sexual animal. Live, the music is pounding, really intense and macabre in a way. The sexuality is quite dark (Brett smacks his own bottom and pouts a lot on stage). A lot of the situations in our songs are officially perverted situations, but it's not intended to be perverted or gimmicky. It's supposed to be very human, very real.
"Take The Drowners'. That's about the beauty of failure in a way. These two people in an... almost kind of drugged-up relationship, y'know, drugged-up on sex, on passion, on intense human emotions. It's like, 'Slow down, you're taking me over' (Or, as he sings it, "Tykin me ovah!'). It's the intensity of when you become obsessed with people. It's an imperfect relationship, a flawed relationship but, within that, it's actually kind of beautiful. These two people don't really like each other, but there's all these sexual ties.
"It's written from two different perspectives. First of all, it's written from the perspective of a female talking about her lover and then there's the idea of homosexual incest which comes out in the first line. That's the second stage. It's very important to the whole idea of Suede that there's a real immediacy there, that there's a real teenage level, that there's no subtlety whatsoever with all the driving riffs and hooks getting into people's heads straight away. Then there's that completely mature side, the deeper side."
"My Insatiable One" another track on the single, is even more risqué- a heavily perfumed come on, tumescent with violent innuendo. "Oh, he is come," swoons the excitable Brett. "He's my insatiable one." Finbarr Saunders would have a fit, especially over the last line - "He wants my inflatable one”. Brett says it's a comment on how you never get blow-up male dolls, but he agrees it could be an erect knob. He says that if you think it's gay, that's okay. It's just the way he writes, partly in disgust at the plastic sex of what he calls the "romantic, perfect pop” tradition and partly to explore the extremes of sexuality.
Suede have another song called "Pantomime Horse" which fair whiffs of sodomy and asks, "Have you ever tried it that way?". Brett sings it like some world-weary, habitually hysterical musical hall dame and it never fails to move me and make me laugh at the same time. He says the humour's totally intentional because, after all, sex is beautiful but, when you stop to think about it, f***ing absurd.
"When you're actually involved in sex, when you're going through the motions, you're thinking, What am I doing?'. I think that's the difference between men and women, basically -women actually enjoy sex and men enjoy thinking about it."
Simon Gilbert, the ginger-haired drummer, smiles and says nothing.
HERE'S something to suck on : "Pantomime Horse", "Metal Mickey" and the new, so-sad-it-OD's "Sleeping Pills" are utterly weird, utterly unique, utterly normal. You can take them home to meet your mum and she'll be charmed, though your dad's bound to call them nancy boys. Suede are a true pop phenomenon, confident and comfortable with their confused sexuality and ravaged nationality.
"We totally see ourselves out on our own," says Bernard. "We are what we are. We feel that the rest of the music world has quite a small effect on us, really. The music comes from life and not from other bands. So many records are rock music about rock music."
"Exactly," says Brett. "There's been a whole progression of bands on the alternative scene that have just been an English interpretation of American cool. Like, I don't want to name names but they've taken an American idea, the whole kind of James Dean-ness of it all, the easy Byrds thing, and interpreted it in an English way. I just find that so unimaginative. It does nothing for me, absolutely nothing.'
'The reason that our music is English, twisted and sexual," says Bernard, "is just because our lives are English, twisted and sexual."
Still, there are two widely-touted Suede reference points. The first is The Smiths, which is understandable considering their name is a truncation of Morrissey's "Suedehead". The second is Seventies Glam Rock. And Suede aren't running scared from either. The Smiths thing is understandable because, like Morrissey, Brett seems to have been born to activate the old pop cliché-yeah, you either love him or you hate him; there's no in between. Suede are only just about to release their debut single and yet, at gigs, there are people who sing along with every word of every song, people who would die to get a piece of Brett. I've seen other people leave in disgust, snarling that Suede are shit.
"I think we're probably the first group since The Smiths who've had any grasp on humanity, instead of just wearing musical badges," says Brett. "That's why people say we're like them. And yeah, the music comes from the same point, the same perspective. We're more extreme than The Smiths but Morrissey was incredibly with it when it came to understanding the whole concept of stardom. If there's anything comparable with us, it's that kind of duality; the way he sang about incredibly ordinary things but became a superstar doing it.That's such an interesting idea.".
The other reference being chucked at Suede is Glam. Even in these hallowed pages a few weeks back, they were banged next to Adorable, Sweet Jesus and Verve in something desperately idiotic called The New Glam Association, some hack's feeble attempt to corral their individual thrust into a new Scene. They immediately cancelled a forthcoming gig with Sweet Jesus. They want no part of that.
"We do take a lot from the Seventies, but only because of the sexual extremity," says Brett. "Like, I think David Bowie was a genius because he explored perspectives that the Sixties never really got into, especially in his performance."
"The Seventies resonate much better with the Nineties than the Sixties do," says Bernard. "I can see why Sixties music appeals to so many bands at the moment, because it's so naive and straightforward and escapist. But the Nineties are really twisted and complicated, and Seventies music sounds right because everyone kind of lost the track a bit back then and things got really odd. Lots of it went horribly wrong, but lots of it went horribly right at the same time. The naivety and love thing of the Sixties doesn't make any sense to me at all in 1992, whereas some of the more twisted stuff from the Seventies, which it's been virtually illegal to like for ages, just makes sense. "Glam was twisted stylistically, but not actually in terms of lyrical content," says Brett. "It always skirted around the issue. It was flippant, just mildly titillating, whereas I think we're much more the real thing. We are how we perform and the songs are about the performance.There's nothing hidden. There are no issues that aren't confronted."
He sips his bitter lemon and licks his lips again. The glitter stays put and sparkles.
"When people criticise us, they often say, 'Oh, the way you sound is very old-fashioned', but there's different ways of being inventive. You don't necessarily have to be experimental in a weird kind of way. There's this cliché which you hear and read all these bands using - y'know, 'We just make music for ourselves and, if anyone else likes it, it's a bonus'. That's the absolute opposite of the way we feel. All the things we do - the live shows and the records-are designed to affect people and connect with people. If I thought that people weren't going to listen, then I wouldn't do it. We're not just up there on stage and if anyone's watching, that's great. We're there because they're there. It's horrific when people aren't into it. It's tragic. Humiliating. That's why being successful is so inherently part of this band - it's not anything to do with the trappings of success, it's because that's the way that we operate, making real pop music for, yeah, real people."
BACK in the studio, Suede are about to have their photo taken for their first front cover - doubtless the first of many. I decide to tell Brett about the glitter. He smiles, but makes no effort to locate it or wipe it away. I ask him, okay, how'd it get there? He smiles again, thinks for an instant, then says: "Oh, a friend of mine has a pair of glitter shorts. It just gets everywhere."
"The Drowners" is released on May 11.
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