Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 10

Number 10: Suede – Dog Man Star (1994)

suede.dog.man.star

Britpop is looked back on with a great deal of distain these days, and in on some levels that stance is fully justified. Atrocities like Shed Seven, Northern Uproar and Menswear are genuine contenders for the title of Worst Band Of All Time, appalling acts that blatantly rode in the slipstream of Oasis’s success and had absolutely no interest in making original music. So in many ways it is ironic that the two bands who are credited with starting the movement would be the ones who moved furthest away from it.

Blur, after gaining front page headlines for their singles duel with the Gallagher brothers, and the nauseating video for Country House, would stop pretending they went to greyhound races and ate jellied eels, as it was clearly a lie. Instead they bought a load of Pavement records and made the self-titled Blur album to no sales but huge critical acclaim. Meanwhile, in the midst of the afore-mentioned Britpop wars, in a gothic town house in the Highgate area of London, Suede front man Brett Anderson listened to some Syd Barrett and Kate Bush, consumed a mountain of acid and fell out with his guitarist. The result was the weirdest album ever made by a mainstream British band.

Suede’s first run of singles was practically flawless, and the B-Sides (remember those?) were, for the most part, as good as if not better than the A-Sides. It was on the flip of the So Young 45 that the first hints of Anderson and Butler’s wild ambition would be heard, on a song called High Rising. Starting off as a sparse ballad featuring the standard Suede themes of being strung out in a tower block yearning for a disreputable woman, about two thirds of the way through it explodes into an enormous swirling cavalcade of swooping guitars and enormous, multi-layered operatic backing vocals. It is one of the most ludicrous songs ever written, but Suede, like their primary influences David Bowie, Kate Bush and The Smiths, were always at their best when at their most over the top.

The first lyric on this album is as follows: “Dog Man Star took a suck on a pill, and stabbed a cerebellum with a curious quill.” So from the first line we’ve already gathered that appalling amounts of narcotics are involved here. Introducing The Band is actually a perfect pace-setter for this album; dark, warped and subversive, with a great segue into the lead-off single We Are The Pigs. This track is glam-Suede at their absolute peak. Stomping, arse-swinging and fierce; snarling guitar parts and squalling brass sections. Heroine continues the thread with its deliberate “Is he singing about girls or drugs” sleaziness, and The Wild Ones, nearly twenty years later arguably still Suede’s greatest song, has the kind of hopeless romanticism that you’d associate with Renaissance-era poetry rather than a pop song. It also features some of the best singing by anyone, ever.

Daddy’s Speeding collapses under its own weight and The Power features some wonderful spiralling lines from Butler whilst New Generation would provide the most accessible moment on the record. It is, however, the closing four-song suite that makes this album so far beyond any over music recorded in its era. The 2 Of Us is one of the stillest songs ever recorded, a snowy, echo-laden torch song that is completely without any sort of swing or groove, a massive departure for an indie band. Brett’s singing on this song is phenomenal, soaring and yearning, reminiscent of Scott Walker’s early Phillips albums, which he claimed he had never heard (that is surely a lie.) Black Or Blue is the druggiest song on the album, and one which has no place on a pop record, instead sounding like it should be part of a particularly creepy West End musical, Anderson’s disgusted shriek of “She understood the law” hilariously camp.

The penultimate track was reportedly what prompted Butler to leave the band. A nine-minute epic, The Asphalt World had apparently been edited down from anything from seventeen to twenty-five minutes, depending on which account you hear, an act which prompted Butler to record the remainder of his parts in isolation from the rest of the band. Allegedly the tapes which he sent in also contained whispered threats and insults, but as we already know, there were narcotics involved. The song itself is probably Butler’s finest recorded moment, his needling and pulsing guitar providing a claustrophobic canvas for Brett’s howled vocal about giving drugs to women and “time-honoured fur.” No, I don’t know either.

Still Life closes the set, basically because nothing else could possibly follow it. It starts off with an acoustic guitar and a discreet string section which gradually builds and builds until, at the two and a half minute mark, the song explodes and all at once we’re hit by an amazing operatic vocal and an orchestra the size of Wales. It is at this point that you realise they have left Britpop light years behind, and we are now in the realms of classical music.

Dog Man Star is the great unheralded musical leap of faith of its era. It is certainly a bigger artistic transition than Blur was after The Great Escape, and arguably even more so than Kid A was after OK Computer, and its tantalizing to imagine what Brett and Bernard could have go onto if they had stayed together. At the same time though, maybe its best that they finished it here. Dog Man Star walks a tightrope between genius and pretentiousness, and talk of twenty-five minutes demos with forty guitar parts would suggest that they very nearly fell off. It is no co-incidence that Suede’s next album, released after a two year break, would be a collection of brisk, bright, three minute pop songs, as if realising that this era was most definitely over, but it produced an intoxicating document of what can happen when two little drama queens take a mountain of hallucinogenics and have Brian Gascoigne on speed dial. It’s a hell of a record.

Best Tracks: The Wild Ones, The 2 Of Us, Still Life

Best Moment: The majestic coda which closes Still Life, and the album.

Like this? Try: Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush, 1985

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

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Generation Terrorists (A Glam Symphony In Two Parts) by Allen Miles

“You are pure, you are snow,
We are the useless sluts that they mould,
Rock n’ roll is our epiphany,
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair.”

Little Baby Nothing, Manic Street Preachers

Myself and Mr Potter occasionally get misty-eyed at work after talking with furrowed brows about how we are struggling to pay bills, and hark back to our youth, how we had the greatest job in the world and how life was so easy because our heads were full of magic, we had a decent amount of money to burn and we could do as we pleased. The only three things we spent our wages on were music, clothes and going out. We bought different clothes, listened to different music and went to different clubs, but Mike and I both acknowledge now that those were the glory days. Nothing has touched them since.

Ms McCartney has written her requiem to the glorious days of our late teens. And, in much the same way that Mr Taylor and his wife have given their separate takes on the same story, I’m now going give my take on the glorious year that was 1999.

She’s right. She knows she’s right because she was there. It was all about the music, all about the looks and all about the invincibilty. It was a time when independent shops still flourished on high streets, David Beckham was known for playing football and Johnny Vaughan was seen as the future of television. The 18 year-old Allen Miles? I wouldn’t like to meet him. He’s got an appalling attitude, treats women like shite and for some reason people call him Ally. He looks like a girl and doesn’t seem to get hangovers. He’s frightened of nothing and thinks he’s going to rule the world. What a dick. No, I wouldn’t like to meet him, but it was a hell of a lot of fun to be him.

This photo was actually taken a year or so later but we still look pretty.

This photo was actually taken a year or so later but we still look pretty.

Unlike Lyndsay, I never rebelled at school. Although I was a gobby little sod I was quite bookish and nerdy and should have been a prime target for the tracksuit-clad, cider-drinking bullies of my year but I was a decent football player so I was sort-of in with their crowd at the same time. You can’t show the merest trace of flamboyance if you’re friends with those sort of people. The summer we left school would be remembered for the shambolic parties at Woody’s where women never turned up and the never-ending afternoons during which Martyn and I would come up with the name of this website. I spent most of my time listening to Oasis and The Stone Roses, brilliant bands but neither with any real image to get excited about, and my other two most played albums were Stanley Road by Paul Weller, and Everything Must Go by The Manic Street Preachers, which I loved, but didn’t know much about. The Manics were in the press a lot that summer, due to having had their first number one single, and a one night an BBC Up Close documentary about them was due to air. I’d watched the previous week’s episode about Creation Records and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I flicked over to channel 2 and my life was completely changed.

Lyndsay

Lyndsay

Richey

Richey

Having been used to seeing this band in kagouls and slack jeans, to see them in blouses and feathers and military gear and spray paint was jaw-dropping. I bought the rest of their back catalogue within a week; my perception of what music could be had completely changed. Music now had to have a bit of glamour, a band had to be more than just a band. Out went the Ocean Colour Scene, Weller and The Verve. In came The Clash, The Smiths, Placebo and Suede. I got my job at Castle Hill, which provided me with £50 a week and I was also running a racket at college selling pirated Playstation games so I had plenty of money to spend on CDs and clothes. I remember going to the Wyke Christmas Party at the age of 17, me in my Manics T-Shirt that I’d bought when I’d seen them the previous week, watching all the orange Jennifer Aniston wannabes boogying to Another Level and the Spice Girls, thinking, “I don’t want to be here, these aren’t my people.” Who were my people?

Unlike Ms McCartney, I never wanted a gang. I would quite happily be the outsider who everyone sees as a little bit strange and intense and not someone to talk to on a casual basis. I wasn’t one to desperately try and get in with the cool crowd who sat on the sofas in the common room at college when I could hang about in some far flung corner of the science wing with one or two of my grubby football mates instead. I’m not very good at making friends to this day, mainly because I’m a terrible inverted snob. But as it turned out, there were a few more terrible inverted snobs out there. At Spiders, and at Room.

My surrogate sister Sam Hopper had somehow seen some sort of potential in me, and wanted to drag me away from my grubby chav roots. And she had nagged and cajoled and, by the end, downright abused me into coming out with her crowd and I first went to Spiders in probably April 1999, I was 17 years old. I was wearing my Manics t-shirt, and a pair of jeans. I went down there with legendary Hull piss-artist Andrew “Beast” Hawkins, who is now a possibly-insane recluse and hasn’t been seen since 2008. I saw Sam and her crowd in the entrance and the first song I heard there was Kevin Carter. A vodka and coke was 55p. I wasn’t expected to drink lager and belch manfully. I’d be at home here.

That bottle of wine just seems to always be there doesnt it?

That bottle of wine just seems to always be there doesn’t it?

At first I’d go maybe once every three weeks. I enjoyed it but was pretty much hanging on for invites from other people. Also I’d taken to spending the odd Saturday night going on massive rambles around Hull with a charismatic and erudite gentleman I’d met at my new job who now calls himself Xavier Dwyer. He turned up on my doorstep one night, having only been introduced about a week earlier, and simply said “Fancy going for a walk?” These walks would become known as The Tours and are among the happiest times of my life. We would have utterly pointless debates such as “Which band were better The Who or The Clash?” or “Is Pablo Honey underrated?” He would furnish me with exotic items such as Radiohead bootlegs and a grainy video import of the then-still banned Clockwork Orange. We talked of one day forming our own band and taking over the world. We had a party at my house where we both smashed the guitars that we could barely play. We went to V99 to see the Manics, Suede and Placebo; I wore a Mecca shirt with the sleeves ripped off because I wanted to be Joe Strummer, Xavier wore a black balaclava because he wanted to be James Dean Bradfield. Glorious, ridiculous, unequivocally romantic memories.

As that monumental summer turned to autumn, I was going to Spiders every Saturday, and by this time I’d met Ms McCartney, Ms Spavin-Haigh, Arthur and unbeknownst to me then, the lanky ginger guy who would be my best man ten years later, Dr Dave Salmond. So this, along with my long-time birding and boozing partner Woody, was now my crowd. How unspeakably beautiful we looked! A year previously I had been a tracky-bottom-wearing grubboid who spent his weekends watching repeats of The Thin Blue Line on UK Gold, now I smeared my eyes in kohl, donned my shiny blue satin shirt and copped off with so many girls it was a disgrace. I had a playlist that by tradition I absolutely had to play before I left my bedroom at seven o’clock every Saturday night.

This Charming Man – The Smiths
Animal Nitrate – Suede
Going Underground – The Jam
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me – U2
So Dead – Manic Street Preachers
White Riot, White Man In Hammersmith Palais, London’s Burning, I Fought The Law – The Clash

I never ever had a hangover, but I realise in hindsight that was because I didn’t drink very much. I could go out with thirty quid and come back with plenty of change. It wasn’t about the drinking, it was about the euphoria of being part of something, looking fantastic and feeling, as Lyndsay has already said, completely invincible. Fearless. We were in thrall to Richey and Brett and Brian Molko, and we all tried to impress each other by quoting Camus and Sartre, even though we wouldn’t read them for another five years. I would shamelessly plagarize any gimmick from whichever androgynous tortured genius I favoured that week; Brett’s single braid in his fringe from the Stay Together video, Johnny Marr’s polka-dot shirt, Nicky Wire’s white jeans… When a new lost photo from this era emerges myself and Mr Salmond more often than not find ourselves wincing at the pair of ponces that stood in our eighteen year old shoes. It was a different age though, and at the time we thought we were the cat’s pyjamas. And we were.

I do that, sometimes...

I do that, sometimes…

That December was the last month of it. I remember one day me and Xavier were both off work and we walked all the way into town from his house down Arram Grove to go record shopping. It was snowing and the grates down Beverly Road were spewing steam into the frozen air, a proper winter’s day. I bought a load of Suede vinyl and Manics memorabilia from Disc Discovery down Spring Bank and arranged to go to Room on the night. I walked round to Woody’s house with a Suede song called The Chemistry Between Us in my head, and I knew as I walked that these were the glory days. This was the peak of youth and these were the days that I would remember in years to come when I was old and bitter and sat typing at one in the morning. More than any other song, that one encapsulated what it was like to be young and pretty with a head full of colliding stars, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but as 1999 became 2000, something was lost. After we got back from Cardiff the make-up and glitter went in the bin, and the gang mentality seemed to dissipate. We still went every Saturday but something had changed, like it was an obligation rather than for fun. The silks and satins would be replaced by Mecca jeans and Converse work shirts; I somehow acquired my first long-term girlfriend, and twenty disastrous months later I would find the Manics and Suede replaced by Nick Cave and Scott Walker, alone in a flat I couldn’t afford, an eviction notice nailed to my door, having drunk myself half to death as I waited for the next angel to come and rescue me.

Lyndsay writes of how important it is for any young people to feel they belong to something. I never wanted that. My memories of that period are defined by the feeling that I didn’t want to belong to anything. I wouldn’t join any club that would have me, as Groucho Marx once said. But for those eight or nine months in 1999, I genuinely believe that on a level of sheer euphoria it was as good as my life ever got. The three chaps I have spoken of in this piece; Dave, Xavier and Woody, remain, fourteen years later, my three best friends, and occasionally, we speak of those times as we down our warm pints of mild in a “food pub” or a “cafe bar” and sneer disapprovingly as we watch the trendy teenagers of the day sleep walk their way down the streets as they play with their smart phones and listen to their mp3 players. Me and Woody, in particular, often kid ourselves that it isn’t we who have got old, rather it is the clubs that have gone downhill. (“Now, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) All four of us will have contretemps about how we dressed, whether we looked silly or looked cool, and whether it is ok to listen to Generation Terrorists when you’re thirty-one. One thing we always agree on though, and we’ve both used this word already; we were utterly invincible.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx