The grand rise and tragic fall of Suede was an era of my life as a music fan that I will not soon forget. Even before their first single was released, Melody Maker threw a hefty title to the band as they dubbed Suede the “Best Band in Britain.” How could this be, you ask? Suede were anthem inspiring anti-heroes and lyrical saviors to Smiths fans searching for musical salvation after the demise of their favorite band. Lead Singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler single-handedly took up the mantle that went missing when Morrissey and Marr split during the release of Strangeways Here We Come.
When Anderson and Butler placed an ad searching for a drummer in a UK music paper, guess who answered? Mike Joyce of The Smiths. This was not an accident—to my devoted ears Suede were The Smiths of the nineties. Brett Anderson made Moz-like declarations such as “I’m a bisexual without a homosexual experience.” But on wax is where you heard the most similar vibes as Butler’s guitar roared next to the gentle purring of Anderson’s elegant vocals; it mirrors the way Marr’s riff reflected the wailings of his counterpart’s musings. Morrissey, himself, covered one of their b-sides “My Insatiable One” as an ode to these new British pioneers.
From the opening riffs of “Metal Mickey” you felt the power of Suede’s glorious melodies. A legion of music fans and I were hooked from the beginning. Even from across the pond, in my own little world in San Antonio, Texas, Suede took me over. They hit a light that had gone out after Strangeways and turned me on with their muse. Suede were the first UK band of the ’90s that I worshiped, and I went out and bought all of their UK singles. There was something about their songs that transcended their unique UK background. I connected with them instantaneously, like I did when I first discovered “There’s a Light that Never Goes Out” a decade earlier.
Suede were far from a musical replicant of The Smiths. The Smiths and their music represented the growing malaise and madness of growing up in England during the Margaret Thatcher regime of the eighties. Suede had more of a glam-inspired glory that represented the beautiful brawn of the overindulgent ’90s.
I waited for the debut album to arrive in America. I even went out and bought it on vinyl and CD as imports. All it took was one spin of Suede and I became an instant disciple. Just listen to the opening number as Brett sings, “Because we’re young, because we’re gone/ we’ll take the tide’s electric mind, oh yeah?” He did it for us, for all of us. Anderson wrote about for the lost, lonely and lustful freaks, like me, that were outcast in their individual cosmos.
“I was born as a pantomime horse
Ugly as the sun when he falls to the floor
I was cut from the wreckage one day
This is what I get for being that way”
The words that came out of Brett’s mouth made each of us feel like someone out there understood us, how we felt in not belonging. We all felt Brett’s heartfelt croon from the same song, the epic “Pantomime Horse.” Brett, also, talks someone off the edge of suicide with the touching “Sleeping Pills.” Anderson seems to have a knack for bringing to life the euphoric state of distant emotional attractions. “What does it take to turn you on?” he asks in “Animal Nitrate.” You also can’t forget the feeling of falling for the crush in the addictive chorus of “Slow down/she’s taking me over” of “The Drowners.” One of my favorites is the back beat rhythms through the soaring sensation of leaving the comforts of your friendly confines as you pack your bags in “Moving.”
But to me, the memory of Suede remains from the closing number on their debut tour when I saw the band in concert before Butler left the group, as they played the last song on their self-titled album, “The Next Life.” With Bernard playing the keyboards and Anderson singing his high pitched heartening pitches in a song about the end, “The Next Life” ended up being the lasting legacy that foreshadowed the eventual shattering of the relationship between Anderson and Butler.
I’ll never forget seeing them together alone on the stage during that one song. To this day, Suede’s performance of “The Next Life” will go down as one of the top five musical highlights ever. Even to this day, when I spin Suede I think of the promise of all that could have been. What if Butler hadn’t left? Would Suede have been immortalized like The Smiths? In my mind, they were the best, and should have been the greatest band of my generation. This was the ultimate album from the sweet and the sour Brit Pop era that was the ’90s. To me there was no other.