Review Summary: The ultimate anti-Brit-pop record at the peak of the Brit-pop era by the Brit-pop kickstarters.
When I first debuted in this site with my review of Slowdive
, I ragged about my hatred on Brit-pop, as the fake Beatlemania prompted the UK music press to annihilate the shoegazing scene relentlessly without justified reasons, while mindlessly praise the Britain-celebrating guitar pop. (Just take a look at the unreasonably scathing review from Melody Maker for Souvlaki
and you know what I mean) Because of it, I tend to avoid Brit-pop bands like Oasis and the mid-90s era Blur when I browse my Apple Music account. Funnily enough, I also mentioned in that article that some of my favorite albums happened to be the magnum opuses by Brit-pop godfathers Pulp
. Especially with Suede (or known as The London Suede in the US), as they are the ones who kickstarted the genre with their self-titled debut, yet they once tried to create a record to distance themselves from the ridiculous scene with Dog Man Star
, where they amped their experimental nous that based on their self-titled debut to 11. To the woe of the band, the internal conflict between then-guitarist Bernard Butler and the rest of the band (especially with vocalist Brett Anderson) and producer/engineer Ed Buller during the creation of this album hurt the stability of the band considerably after the release of this album, considering the album is relative commercial disappointment when compared to their debut and the singles charted relatively poorly when compared to early songs like “Metal Mickey” and “Animal Nitrate”, which is not surprising given that this is their least accessible effort in their first run. As a result, this album was perhaps remembered as the one that almost destroyed the band and became relatively dismissed at the time. Today, however, fans would definitely recognize this album as the pinnacle of the band’s catalog, and there are reasons.
The one magnificent feature in this album that makes it such a classic is because of its distinctively different tone when compared to the band’s self-titled album. While Suede
sounds like the combination of the glam-rock era David Bowie
and the poetic perfection of The Smiths
, Dog Man Star
is even more difficult to define. Even though there are rocking moments like the marching “We Are The Pigs”, the upbeat Bowie-like romp in the aching “New Generation” and the scything guitar riffs in the swaggering “This Hollywood Life” that recalls “Animal Nitrate”, much of the album is darker in sound that recalls the moodiest moments of The Smiths. Just take the robotic opener “Introducing The Band”, the sparse, heartbreaking ballad “The 2 of Us” and dreary “Daddy’s Speeding”, the reverberated vocals of singer Anderson gives a cinematic touch, with the latter has a build-up of white noise and feedback to simulate a car crash and ended it with a Moog synthesiser drone, which flourishes the claustrophobic aura of the album. Furthermore, you have the layered guitar ballad “The Wild Ones” and “Black or Blue”, not-so-cheery sing-alongs “Heroine” and “The Power” and the magisterial, orchestral “Still Life”, all of which are tunes that you would not find in the self-titled. The undisputed crowning jewel, however, in this album is “The Asphalt World”, a nine-minute epic which has a one-minute long guitar solo that recalls Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, and a brilliant instrumental coda that follows, giving a bombastic climax to the already grandiose album. It’s no wonder that Butler originally planned to have this song to have a 20-minute guitar solo, as I could imagine that he could create some hypnotizing riffs to construct a sonic world that the title suggests. Still, I think this idea is a bit too much, since this kind of gigantic guitar work could go wrong easily, and the nine-minute structure is already impressive enough. (Though an unedited 11-minutes edition is issued in the deluxe reissue of the album) Besides, “The Asphalt World” just flourishes the cinematic beauty in the rest of Dog Man Star
, which lead to an album that amplified and exhibited the band’s sensual nature and experimental side at their zenith.
Another magical feature that makes this album shine is its dramatic lyricism, which is not surprising as Anderson adopted the approach of writing in a stream of consciousness due to his intake of psychedelic drugs and watched numerous noir film in a Victorian mansion during the writing process. In fact, the lyrics here are much more melodramatic than its predecessor, as Anderson veered towards the nihilistic, romantic moans of Morrissey instead of the glam-y persona of Ziggy Stardust. Just take the lovelorn “The Wild Ones” as an example, as Anderson crooned, “As I open the blinds in my mind, I'm believing that you could stay”, and repeated “Oh, if you stay” towards the end of the song, lamented about the failing romance, mirroring the grandiose and weary nature of the album. Speaking of romance issues, Anderson also yearned about his drug-induced romance “New Generation” (“I wake up every day to find her back again”), crooned about his doomed romance with a non-Caucasian romantic partner in “Black or Blue”(“I don't care if you're black or blue/Me and the stars stay up for you”), or lament about the long-distance romantic relationship in “The 2 of Us” (“I heard you call from across the city through the stereo sound”) and made jibe about the relationship of his ex-girlfriend/Elastica frontwoman Justine Frichmann and Blur frontman Damon Albarn in “The Asphalt World” (“Well, how does she feel when she's in your bed？”). There are also dark dystopian poetry that also talks about non-romantic issues as well, whether is it documenting the tragic story of a drug-addled girl (“Heroine”) or writing a paean to the rebel without a cause James Dean himself (“Daddy’s Speeding”), or struggling in stardom (“This Hollywood Life”), or protesting in a dystopian society in “We Are The Pigs” (“And as the smack cracks at your window/You wake up with a gun in your mouth”), or questioning his existence in “Still Life” (“And this still life is all I ever do/There by the window, quietly killed for you”). Such film noir lyrics perfectly contemplates the album’s dark, grandiose sound, creating a record that is mesmerizingly beautiful and mysterious, all the while proofing that Suede is no longer just the Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars goes The Smiths.
In short, it’s no accessible effort like the Suede’s crisp self-titled debut or the jangly follow-up Coming Up
, it’s a tortured, ornate one that would define the band’s legacy. In fact, it is an aural equivalent to an ancient cathedral with many meticulously crafted yet heavily weathered structures. There’s a reason why critics and fans alike continuously compared the band’s post-reunion albums to this magnum opus today, and it’s not just because Bloodsport
is an excellent Dog Man Star
record, and that Night Thoughts
recalls the dark, cinematic beauty of this album. Compared to other albums, this album is the band at their most consistent, unique and brilliant simultaneously, not to mention this album still sounds fresh compared to the other releases. Sure, Dog Man Star
is their artiest and most morbid effort that many may confound some listeners(American presses at the time are actually polarised about this album because of its difficult nature), especially that it is nothing sound alike to its predecessor and the beery sing-along Brit-pop, just like Anderson wanted from the get-go. Like Slowdive did in Souvlaki
, the sophomore effort is an initially overlooked effort of the band that would eventually overcome the tantalizing situations at the time, outdo its predecessor, and become their definitive statement of who they are. And in this case, a darkly sensual band that many outcasts would seek the shelter of, just like the album cover with a naked man laying on a mattress in a rural, dilapidated house under a vintage colour filter. Indeed, contemporaries Pulp would create a similarly dark and arty album that is This Is Hardcore
that would serve as the unofficial (and brilliant) obituary of Brit-pop, and somehow the Pulp won in terms of the degree of darkness both sonically and lyrically. Yet, Suede did Pulp could not achieve even at their darkest hour in Dog Man Star
—exhibiting their signature dark sensuality and troubled, melodramatic sound at its best without being overly awkward and silly, and eventually turning their most turbulent hour into their finest one.
Introducing The Band
We Are The Pigs
The Wild Ones
The Asphalt World