The Just Played Verdict: The Suede Reissues

The reissues market really thrived on artists from a certain area being tarted up and dusted down to allow middle-aged types to relive their youth. The Who, The Stones, Costello and Bowie, have all been remastered and repackaged to celebrate every two-bit anniversary, with huge sales to boot. However, with the CD market not quite what it once was, the music of the Nineties is also getting a facelift before the bags have truly formed under its eyes. Beck, Saint Etienne, Radiohead and Pulp have all had relatively recent deluxe outings and latest into the fray come Suede.

suede debutSuede Morning

The trajectory from ‘Best New Band in Britain’ to the chartphobic wet-fart of a finale is fascinating, and the recently released 2CD/DVD sets of all five albums are every bit as good as you would hope. Let’s begin where it all ended: ‘A New Morning’. Having suffered a lengthy and troubled gestation, Suede’s final album was met with critical and popular indifference. After the pop re-birth of ‘Coming Up’ and the drugged, synthetic sound of ‘Head Music’, a polished, optimistic outing – with most rough edges neatly smoothed over – just didn’t really seem like an album they would release. Listened to directly after the previous four records, its flaws remain noticeable if dimmed but, taken in isolation, ‘A New Morning’ still contains some cracking indie jangle. ‘One Hit To The Body’ has a gloriously big chorus and ‘Positivity’, despite being the slick, shuffling first single which signalled the beginning of the end, possesses a great late-period Anderson vocal. The bonus tracks are a mixed bag, with previously unreleased track ‘Refugees’ demonstrating exactly why it had hitherto been hidden from us. The demos, as Brett observes in his splendid sleevenotes, suggest what might have been, stripping back some of the gloss and giving some of these, actually rather fine, songs a chance to get comfortable and spread out a little. As with ‘Head Music’, the b-sides are ripe for a bit of cherry-picking, ‘Simon’ chief amongst them, along with actually-an-a-side ‘Attitude’, previously used to promote the ill-fated ‘Singles’ compilation which served to truly switch out the lights on the band’s original run.

Continue reading “The Just Played Verdict: The Suede Reissues”

A Week With… 14. Suede – Coming Up

JP AWW 14

It all sounds rather tinny these days. Still absolutely fucking glorious, but pretty tinny. At the time it sounded vital: stirring music for indie outsiders, the length and breadth of the country. ‘Coming Up’ can never match ‘Suede’ or ‘Dog Man Star’ for atmosphere, songcraft and so many other things but then those two records can’t match ‘Coming Up’ for its thoroughly dirty, unashamedly trashy fixation with decadent living in the nineties. It celebrates not fitting in, not doing the right thing and not giving a shit. It is one of the most confident sounding records I own and it couldn’t really have been released at any other time than the summer of 1996.

jp aww suede

Suede are back now and garnering the rave reviews that pretty much nobody was willing to give them around the time they originally decided to pack it all in, back in 2003. The only time I’ve ever actually seen them live was the tour supporting their last album, ‘A New Morning’, which represented the death throes of a once great band. Having developed a monumental crush on Gemma Hayes, across the duration of her all-too-brief support set, I was even less receptive than I may have otherwise been to Brett Anderson’s dispiriting angry, bitter man routine. I’ve never seen a frontman so completely propelled by seeming disgust and it only served to set the tone for the night.

Despite all of this, I actually rather liked their final outing, and had bought tickets off the back of it, rather than hoping for a nostalgia trip. And yet, left baffled by an almost self-parodying performance it was the irresistible high of ‘Beautiful Ones’ which really connected that night and brought back memories of buying both CD singles so as to complete my ‘collector’s wallet’, right off the back of the CD single of ‘Trash’ having contained a poster of Brett’s handwritten lyrics to that enormous track. Indeed, while subject of much mirth and fairly constant ridicule, it’s Anderson’s lyrics that provided my route back to Suede recently with the publication of ‘The Words Of Brett Anderson’, a signed, miniature hardback book collecting the vast majority of his lyrics from the past eighteen years. It’s a delightful little title and, while there are still moments that make you want to stab your own eyes out to spare your brain any further suffering (“And she’s as similar as you can get, to the shape of a cigarette” anyone?) there are plenty of examples to evoke genuinely fond memories of Anderson and Suede in their pomp. I’ve always adored the heartfelt simplicity of the closing track on ‘Coming Up’, ‘Saturday Night’. “Tonight, we’ll go drinking, we’ll do silly things, and never let the winter in. And it’ll be okay, like everyone says, it’ll be alright and ever so nice.” While hardly groundbreaking, it paints a pretty vivid picture for me and, coupled with a perfectly measured musical backdrop, it is one of my very favourite songs by this quite spectacular band.

The nineties indie-glam swagger of tracks like ‘Filmstar’, ‘Trash’ and ‘She’ are neatly counterbalanced by the epic crooners like ‘Picnic By The Motorway’, ‘The Chemistry Between Us’ and the aforementioned ‘Saturday Night’. One of the band’s best b-sides also dates from the ‘Coming Up’ era. ‘Another No One’, which appeared as back up to ‘Trash’ but which has since become more readily available via the compilation, ‘Sci-Fi Lullabies’, is a stark, stirring and pretty pissed off account of the end of a relationship. If you’ve never had the pleasure, allow me…

Listening back to ‘Coming Up’ now, it sounds very much of a time, without sounding particularly dated. Though that may sound contradictory, I would argue that although it richly evokes a particular moment in time, bringing back vivid cultural and personal memories, it hasn’t become jaded by that association. It doesn’t sound like it’s not fit for purpose in 2010. The reviews that have greeted their recent live comeback would seem to suggest that they’ve all still got it, even if the record buying public decreed eight years ago that that wasn’t actually the case. Spend a little time revisiting whatever Suede you have in your collection and see if their charm is still alive for you; it’s been a strangely invigorating experience for me.

A logo written in toothpaste

Mmmm. Another record shopping-based outing today. A small, but splendid, pile of records are being aired as I type. Currently, it’s the new Stereolab, which is better than I’d expected after reading some mixed reviews on the net. The limited edition Japanese-style CD is rather fun too. Anyhoo, said record shopping expedition leads me to my (main) two topics for today.

Firstly, the Coalition of Independent Record Stores and secondly, the changing ways people purchase music, with a particular focus on those young rapscallions, Bloc Party.

I’ve mentioned the ‘Coalition’ a few times already and I’m still not convinced that it actually counts for anything. I’ve previously expressed my misgivings about the elitist approach it’s taking and this has been underlined by my experiences over the past couple of weeks. As is my tendency at this time of year, I’ve been working my way round many of the independent record stores of the UK and, not being an especially shy chap, I’ve taken to engaging the staff (generally the owners, it must be said) of these stores in conversation about how business is going, which has, inevitably, brought us round to the topic of the Coalition.

When I first mentioned this idea it was alongside a blog post by the good folk at Norman Records that didn’t paint the project in an especially pretty light. It would seem that the initial fears have proved absolutely correct. One of the main reasons quoted to Norm as to why they wouldn’t be allowed into the Coalition was that this initiative is all about driving people back in to actual record shops rather than simply adding to online sales. As Norm pointed out at the time, many of the shops allowed in to the Coalition actually do a brisk trade online. Thus, it came as no surprise to me today to find that, upon visiting one of the Coalition stores – I’ll not mention which one to avoid any assumptions about who said what – the Brett Anderson album, ‘Wilderness‘, that is, apparently, exclusively available in Coalition stores in August ahead of its main release in September, had yet to arrive. It was officially released to these stores last Monday and yet this store had had none, and had no idea when they would actually arrive. However, Avalanche Records, who, if you remember, are the initial torch-holders for this endeavour, had plenty in stock from the off and have been merrily flogging them to anyone who wants them…via eBay! I know, just sit back and bask in the insane hypocrisy of that for a moment.

During the numerous chats I’ve had with Coalition members of late, it has been noted that a Brett Anderson album is hardly going to set the charts alight or keep the tills ringing for weeks on end. Surely, you don’t release an album in a limited edition of 1900 if you think you can flog 1901, or more, copies of that title? That said, not even a handful of those 1900 copies had made it to at least one of the Coalition stores by this morning. When I last checked, Avalanche’s eBay shop had put up 50 copies, and already sold 21 of them. Still, at least Avalanche aren’t letting their position as ‘head honcho’ distort things in their favour. Oh, hang on. For fuck’s sake, you’re either trying to help out all of the people in the same, dire position or you’re not.

Apparently, during the heated meetings that occur from time to time between representatives from the Coalition member stores one of the most recent (and I think you’ll agree, brilliant) ideas was to have exclusive Coalition T-shirts that can only be bought from Coalition stores. Have you seen the Coalition logo? It’s over to the right in amongst the links to independent record stores. It’s truly appalling! The title of today’s post is the best description I’ve been given of what the T-shirts look like. The most important point that’s been raised, however, is who the bloody hell would actually wear one of these things, let along buy it? Furthermore, who even knows that the Coalition exists apart from over-keen people like my good self and you, my loyal readers? It seems like an exercise in dithering thus far. A Brett Anderson album that you couldn’t pay most people to take away is exclusively available from Coalition stores – unless it’s not of course. It’s intended to provide an incentive to shop in a bricks and mortar record shop, and yet it’s doing steady business on a world-famous, online – and let’s be pretty fucking aware – corporate auction site. Mission accomplished.

Some readers may remember the joyous days of the ‘Chain With No Name’, regularly labelled as CWNN on adverts in the music press. Regular pages would tell you what the latest indie releases were and then, at the bottom of the ad, you could find out where to buy them from. CWNN occasionally led to little perks like bonus discs or posters you couldn’t get elsewhere. Not CWNN T-shirts, you’ll notice.

Some questions remain about the Coalition:

1. Who’s it really for? Does the consumer really benefit when there’s bugger all advertising, the stock isn’t actually in the shops that it’s supposed to be in and those in charge don’t appear to care too much about other shops.

2. What’s it really for? If it doesn’t actually alter the record-buying experience, how will it have an impact? Is anyone going to think, “Balls to buying that CD on play.com for £6.99, I’m going in to town, to my local indie so I can get it for £9.99, but at least I’ll have the chance to buy one of those lovely T-shirts?” I suspect – and I’d so dearly loved to be proved wrong on this – that the answer is no.

3. Does it actually have any meaningful principles? If web-only indie stores aren’t going to be allowed in on the grounds that they don’t cause people to tend towards independent stores on the high street, shouldn’t all Coalition exclusives be store sales only? Isn’t it a really shitty tactic to ostracise online-only dealers and then fill your pockets with eBay funded cash?

As virtually nobody knows about the Coalition and even fewer care, I think that’ll have to be my last word on it for the time being. I’m sure I’ll be whining about it again by this time next week.

And so, eventually, we come to the other topic of note. Bloc Party‘s new album, ‘Intimacy‘, is out on Thursday, at 9am. No, really. Out of nowhere, they’ve come up with the idea of announcing an almost immediate download of an album, with a CD version to follow. It’s revolutionary, I tell thee. To be fair, the manner in which they’ve done it is quite neat. It was only announced last night and yet, in a couple of days time, the album will be all over file-sharing networks the world over. And a few people will pay for it, I’m sure. However, it continues the logic I was touching on yesterday with my post about boxsets. The bands and record industries are desperately looking for anything that will give the business a quick cash injection. Using upfront, and unexpected, paid for downloads is a very simple way of avoiding the ‘leak’ issue that can cause untold damage to physical sales, as everybody illegally downloaded the album six weeks before it came out for real. Not the case with this. However, if you look at the new David Byrne and Brian Eno release, ‘Everything That Happens Will Happen Today’, which went on sale digitally yesterday. A CD will follow, if you took that option on purchase, but for now you’ve got the MP3 or flac files to play with. However, disproving the theory that this makes leaks less of an issue, within an hour of the webshop going live, the album was available for illegal download all over the internet. I’d recommend the Flac + CD option, personally, but the point remains that plenty of people don’t expect to have to pay anything and giving them a good deal does nothing to change their minds.

Oh, and if ‘Mercury‘ is anything to go by, it’ll be a big bag of arse anyway. That said, I’m sure they’ll get my tenner and I’ll have a grumble about it on here at the end of the week.

That’ll do for now, eh?