Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tragic as the son of a superman

We'll never never play the harp,
and we'll stick like sick on the stars...

That little couplet popped into my head the other day as I jogslogged manfully away at a gym treadmill. It’s good isn’t it? Bit disgusting and I’m not sure what it means exactly, but as Enderby and I always say, don’t worry too much about meaning, the words are all that matter.

Anyway, the couplet nagged at me for a few moments until I remembered that it comes from Moving, a song on Suede’s eponymously-titled 1993 debut album (eponymously-titled albums by bands with one-word names were very much the thing in mid-90s British indie music. It was a time of great One Word Eponymosity).

In the sixteen years* since it was released, I must have listened to Suede by Suede approximately, oooh, ten thousand billion times. However, the distribution of those ten thousand billion listens over the sixteen year period is not an even one; far from it, a scatter plot of my Suede listening would show a huge concentration of dots in the period 1993-1996, and increasing scarcity thereafter fading to just the occasional spot on an otherwise perfect blankness, as rare and lovely as skin-blemishes on the huge bony back of Keira Knightley’s character in the film Atonement.

Suede consisted of vocalist/lyricist Brett Anderson, guitarist Bernard Butler and two other guys who don’t really matter. They were not the only mid-1990s One Word Eponymisers to plunder the best bits of Ziggy-era Bowie and Strangeways-era Smiths but they were definitely several cuts above the rest.

They had a handful of absolutely belting tunes. They had a strong sartorial style which lent itself to tribalism and copycatting (I never got the hang of either but I remember that my university contemporary Danny Robins, who has gone on to achieve a modicum of success mainly as a radio comedian, was the exact spit of Anderson and cultivated his floppy side-quiff to emphasise this fact). Above all, Anderson’s lyrics conjured up a weird, elusive but internally coherent world of sleazy suburban nightmares and dirty glamour, perfectly designed to appeal to repulsive, greasy British teenagers up and down the land.

We shake shake shake to the trumpet
And through the slippery city we ride
Skyline swine on the circuit
Where all the people shake their money in time

There’s another bit of brilliant Anderson nonsense that’s been sloshing around my head for a decade and a half. You can’t overestimate the importance of these things in your formative years. They linger and cling. The noughties decade has glided by, one year blending seamlessly into the next, and I can never remember whether things happened in 2003 or 2006 or whenever. But the years 1993 to 1998 are very clearly distinct to me, each with its own colour and flavour.

It didn’t work out in the long run for Suede (an excellent EP Stay Together, then the partly great but absurdly pretentious Dog Man Star. After that Butler left and the replacements made fairly routine pop, with Anderson’s lyrical mojo deserting him and the songs finally descending into self-parody; auto-generated combinations of 'diesel' and 'gasoline' and 'supermarket' and 'glitter'. Butler is now the force behind sub-Winehouse warbler Duffy).

Nonetheless, I doubt I’ll ever shake off that first album.

I was conned by a circus hand,
Tragic as the son of a superman...

Marvellous. Superman is sad enough – how tragic would his son be? When, after I’ve won the Nobel, an interviewer asks me who my poetic influences are, I shall say: “W H Auden and Brett Anderson”. I will look Kirsty Wark dead in the eye and dare her to laugh.

*dear God. Sixteen years, eh? Tempus fuggedaboudit.


Anonymous said...

My favourite is Dog Man Star. How about the take on Bryon:

She walks in beauty like the night
Discarding her clothes in the plastic flowers
Pornographic and tragic in black and white
My Marilyn come to my slum for an hour

Or the opening of 'The Wild Ones'...

Brit said...

Definitely had its moments, Dog Man Star, and I loved it at the time. But it's so overtly pretentious that I find it hard to listen to now.

Sci-Fi Lullabies, the early B-sides collection, stands up pretty well though.

Their time in the critical limelight will come round again, as with Morrissey, Stone Roses etc. These things go in cycles.

Nige said...

I think my son's in one of the B-side videos - big fan he was, and I could see his point, but it was too late for me. My vivid years ran from 66 to 76, when the music died for me - I mean there was plenty to like, love even, but never again that overwhelming visceral high. It didn't seem to matter any more...

Brit said...

Well as I said in the post, you probably had to be a repulsive, greasy teenager to really appreciate them, Nige. Good claim to fame for Nige Junior though - unless of course he now has other, better ones.

I'd have thought that about 25 would be the absolute cut-off age between getting really excited about bands and just liking them a bit. After that it would be a bit sad. Tribes are for kids. (Although listening exclusively to the music of your youth is as bad.)