photo & text by nacrowe
the ENGLISH ALTERNATIVE ROCK band SUEDE was one of the FLAGSHIP acts of a mid-1990s movement known as BRITPOP that was a reaction to the relative cultural hegemony of the BRITISH music industry by AMERICAN GRUNGE acts like NIRVANA for the first half of the decade. along with BLUR, PULP, ELASTICA, SLEEPER and OASIS, SUEDE was part of a loose effort to reestablish BRITISH ROCK AND ROLL for a new generation of listeners.
whats interesting is how those acts initially borrowed from previous generations of ENGLISH music, most prominently the BRITISH INVASION and POST PUNK. its all a bit of a UNIQUE recipe, and SUEDE no doubt borrowed from both of those traditions, but arguably 1970s GLAM ROCK as typified by T. REX, SLADE, SWEET and DAVID BOWIE was also a major influence. especially on their eponymous debut album SUEDE (NUDE, 1993) and its STANDOUT singles in "ANIMAL NITRATE," "SO YOUNG," "METAL MICKEY," "THE DROWNERS" as well as tracks like "PANTOMINE HORSE" and "SLEEPING PILLS."
SUEDE is fronted by former architecture student BRETT ANDERSON, whose high falsetto and slim figure made him the poster child for a new updated ANDROGYNY at the beginning of the decade. the songs themselves with their CLOAKED references to DRUGS and DETAILED CHARACTER STUDIES no doubt positioned him, along with BLUR's DAMON ALBARN and PULP's JARVIS COCKER, as particularly LITERARY-MINDED and in the lyrical songwriting tradition of THE KINKS' RAY DAVIES, THE WHO's PETE TOWNSEND and even THE SMITHS' MORRISSEY. both of these are in opposition to the more LADDISH and outright OAFISH presentation of OASIS' LIAM GALLAGHER as well as the more PSYCHEDELIC and FREE ASSOCIATION lyrical perspective of his brother NOEL.
my personal favorite thing about their debut SUEDE, is the INCREDIBLE guitar playing of BERNARD BUTLER, who along with BLUR's GRAHAM COXON, is arguably the proper 90s heir to the 80s GUITAR WIZARDRY and INTELLIGENT POP song craft that is THE SMITHS' JOHNNY MARR, of whom both are devout acolytes. for people that cannot get past ANDERSON's voice or BRASH STAGE PERSONA, i have heard nothing but praise of BUTLER and the incredibly articulated ARPEGGIATED TEXTURES found throughout these songs on SUEDE. it makes sense that after his departure from SUEDE later in the decade he became an in-demand songwriting collaborator and production maestro, again a la MARR.
when i personally look back at the BRITPOP movement, the most BRITISH sounding group to my yankee ears by far is SUEDE. its both their references and their presentation that mark them as uniquely ENGLISH in nature, even in comparison to their cohort of bands from the same period. on some level those other bands seemed to be more directly influenced by the AMERICAN ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that wained in influence throughout the decade after the untimely passing of KURT COBAIN. BLUR (specifically COXON) adopted the noisier, combustible elements of AMERICAN INDIE ROCK (a la PAVEMENT) and OASIS' NOEL GALLAGHER was an equal opportunity raider of the great ROCK AND ROLL songbook, yankees included. arguably only PULP and their adoption of WORKING-CLASS DANCE culture preserved their ENGLISHNESS throughout the decade in a manner similar to SUEDE by raiding and taking influence from BRITISH cultural traditions.
regardless, SUEDE is a CELEBRATED album (it won the PRESTIGIOUS MERCURY PRIZE in 1993) and arguably one of the key achievements of the BRITPOP movement full stop. it is most definitely worth checking out if you are unfamiliar with its CHARMS.