Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 23)
So, Coming Up
is Suede’s pop album. How can you tell? By listening to literally
one second of opener “Trash”. Where Suede
opened with guitar feedback and off kilter drums and Dog Man Star
with cold atmospherics, Coming Up
kicks the door down with a massive bass drum/snare hit - “BUM-TISH” – that lays all of Bret Anderson’s stadium filling ambitions bare immediately.
In the wake of the low selling release of Dog Man Star
and that album’s miserable creation process and ejection of guitarist Bernard Butler, Anderson vowed to make the total opposite of that record. And indeed, Coming Up
is that albums reverse in every way. Where Dog Man Star
was bloated and cynical to a fault, Coming Up
is lean and optimistic. It shimmers where its predecessor would have glowered. It’s a full-scale resurrection of the ghosts of Ziggy Stardust and Marc Bolan. After watching two bit tarts like Mensw@r and Sleeper get rich off a style he basically invented, Coming Up
is the sound of Bret Anderson returning to Britpop and showing the kids how its done.
In my (admittedly, unpopular) opinion, Coming Up
isn’t just a great Suede album. It’s their best. Where Suede
felt dominated by its singles, with minor tracks like “Moving” and “Breakdown” feeling woefully inferior, Coming Up
is a near uniform work of brilliance. Aside from the just good “She” - which is still worthy of note thanks to dramatic strings arranged by Massive Attack acolyte Craig Armstrong – Coming Up
is an album of highlights. Each song could have been a single, its amazing to me they only put out 5. Dog Man Star
, considered by just about everyone else to be their best album, is certainly brilliant but at just shy of an hour long its also crushingly dour and claustrophobic. By contrast, Coming Up
is a zippy 42 minutes that feels like 30. I’ve listened to it twice as much as Dog Man Star
in half the time. It also finds Anderson trading in narcissism for sincerity. And - surprise! - it looks great on him.
For the ballads, Anderson wisely takes the blueprint laid out by Dog Man Star
highlight “The Wild Ones” and runs with it. “By the Sea” is a quietly devastating ballad about a last ditch effort to save a doomed relationship, climaxing with the haunting refrain “Into the sea, we’ll bleed”. The atmospheric “Picnic By the Motorway” finds one friend empathetically consoling another (“I'm so sorry to hear about the scene/Don't you worry/Just put on your trainers and get out of it with me.”) The beautiful closing number “Saturday Night” recasts the hungover taxi ride home as a gentle journey back to a warm bed.
As the legend goes, Bernard Butler’s replacement was recruited via audition tape sent in by one Richard Oakes with an attached note that read “I know I can do you good, I'll be a real plus for you” When drummer Simon Gilbert walked in on Bret Anderson listening to the tape, he thought it was an old Butler demo. He was recruited almost immedantly and warmly welcomed to Suede. Oakes isn’t the technical dynamo that Butler was but he makes up by cooperating with (or submitting to) Anderson. He has a very keen ear for the kind of candy needle riffs that send “Beautiful Ones” and “The Chemistry Between Us” into glam rock Valhalla. Oakes, along with the also new keyboardist Neil Codling, are far better than Butler at simply letting a melody do the lifting. You may miss the guitar pyrotechnics at first but will quickly come to equally appreciate the gorgeous atmospherics of “Lazy” and “Picnic by the Motorway”.
But what ties this all together, whats more important than all the sincerity and new guitarists in the world, is that this is album is just so goddamn
catchy its unreal. Every song here has at minimum
5 massive hooks. “Beautiful Ones” has 27. I counted. If you’re anything like me and believe music lives and dies by the hook, this is paradise. It just might be the catchiest single album of the 90s.
All those hooks really paid off for Anderson’s commercial aspirations. All 5 singles off Coming Up
went top 10 (And if they had trimmed epic 7 minute fireworks display “The Chemistry Between Us” they could have had their first number one, in my opinion). Coming Up
sold over a million copies in Britain alone and charted high across the globe (Not America, natch). Suede were bigger than ever. They followed Coming Up
with 1999’s Head Music
, which was somehow even more day glo and poppy. After releasing A New Morning
in 2002 (Which isn’t as bad as everyone says it is) they broke up in 2003. When Suede reunited in 2010, it was assumed they would do a few nostalgia tours before going their separate ways. What happened instead, few saw coming.