Suede Dog Man Star

[Nude/Columbia; 1994]

Styles: Britpop, alternative, glam-rock
Others: Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Blur, David Bowie, The Cure, The Smiths, Pulp

By 1994, the direction of rock music from the British Isles had more or less been secured. It was in that year that Oasis would storm onto the scene with the classic Definitely Maybe, crafting the formula of tuneful, yet biting Brit-rock, a style that modeled itself on maintaining the melodic tendencies of The Beatles along with a moody English aesthetic. Concurrently to Gallagher & Company, Radiohead had by this point chartered their course on the map as well. Firmly reputable following the release of The Bends, even before OK Computer, they were the alternative to Brit-pop, not being nearly as influenced by the Fab Four, more brooding, and, as was to be seen in later efforts, much more socially conscious. They were (and remain) the palatable deviation from the mainstream; perhaps fittingly, it was in '94 that Manic Street Preachers had one final go with Richey James, and for many, they faded in the years that followed. Too much insanity, after all, freaks people out.

And all of these bands are great, and all merit mention, and all are wonderful listens even a dozen years later, regardless of their contemporary relevance. It is Suede's Dog Man Star, however, that often slips through the recollections of this period. For shame, because this album has aged fabulously, sounding raw and new today. What's more, it could've been released in the '70s and stood with the likes of David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, with it's psychedelic-cum-theatrical numbers such as “Daddy's Speeding” and “Black and Blue,” and irresistible classic rock guitar lines on “We Are the Pigs.” It could also hold up easily in the '80s against The Cure and The Smiths, with Brett Anderson's vocals drenched in self-pity and resignation. He peppers his sound with enough vibrato and falsetto to seem satirical; unlike with Morrissey, however, one doubts he's actually being self-effacing.  Hell, “Heroine” and “The New Generation” are infused with enough melodic panache to appeal to ‘80s pop die-hards and fans of Duran Duran.

If not the best, one of the strongest moments on the album is “The Wild Ones.”  Beginning with a simple, almost distant sounding guitar riff, Anderson comes in, and we can almost see him smiling half regretfully, as he croons in a fatalistic manner that everything could be better if he weren't ditched, but instead he's doomed to recognize failed possibilities and wallow in his own loneliness. This song is an anthem for everybody at some point in their lives: who hasn't felt the sting of alienation, the hurt of rejection, and felt the need to sit inside on a rainy day and feel sorry for oneself? There, there, Mr. Anderson is here to let you know you are not alone after all.

Lyrically, Anderson wavers between being self-indulgent and scraping the surface of class-consciousness and the amorphous meaning of British identity. In this sense, Suede has found themselves somewhere between the punk and pop aesthetic. On the one hand, Anderson is entirely concerned with relationships and self-loathing. At the same time, he yearns to break free from the meaninglessness of contrived clichés, urging his audience to “Rescue me/From this Hollywood life,” and that “I don't care for the U.K. tonight.” Rejecting the traditional definitions of both Englishness and celebrity, yet firstly and firmly concerned about individualist themes, Anderson has created a masterful depiction of the frustration and conflicted emotions felt by the young and modern middle class. 

The album is indeed saturated with a feeling of waywardness. It was during this record that guitarist Bernard Butler left the band due to unmanageable tension. It was also here that Anderson's mood and lyrics were influenced by a steady diet of heavy drugs. Of course, we don't need to be strung out or at the brink of broken relationships to identify with this record. Rather, those extremes simply contributed to an album that celebrates (for lack of a better word) the sense of feeling lost in life. The record's beauty, however, lies in the fact that its mood is complemented so nicely by glamrock synths and strings, unreal melodies, and absolutely classic guitar hooks. More than a decade down the road, the contrast is as beautiful as ever. Dog Man Star may not have been an album with grandiose moral statements, nor did it resurrect and modernize The Beatles sound. It wonderfully captures the human emotion, however; because of that, twelve years later, it is still a remarkable listen.

1. Introducing the Band
2. We Are the Pigs
3. Heroine
4. The Wild Ones
5. Daddy's Speeding
6. The Power
7. New Generation
8. This Hollywood Life
9. The 2 of Us
10. Black or Blue
11. The Asphalt World
12. Still Life
13. Modern Boys