Suede - Dog Man Star

Having swept regally to stardom with a handful of cracking singles (with, almost as exciting to the press, b-sides that were every bit as good), and the fastest-selling début album in the U.K. since Frankie Goes To Hollywood (not to mention winning the Mercury award for the same album), Suede went missing for most of '94; they spent the latter half of '93 touring the U.S. with The Cranberries (whose quaint Irishness was lapped up by both MTV and the U.S. public), until the tour was cut short by the death of guitarist Bernard Butler's father in the autumn.

Butler conceived an epic, eleven minute piece as a tribute to his father; Stay Together was released as a single in February of 1994, crashing into the singles charts at number 3. But this was the last that would be heard of Suede for most of the rest of '94; apparently, the band spent most of the year in a Victorian mansion, writing and recording a new album. Singer Brett Anderson, always a favourite for the music press's rumour mills, is rumoured to have written most of the album's lyrics under the influence of heroin. While Brett, drummer Simon Gilbert and bassist Matt Osman were living it up, both on the road and during the recording sessions, Bernard Butler was going a very different direction, becoming introspective and withdrawn after his father's death. Despite the eminent suitability of his compositions to the epic grandeur that producer Ed Buller gave them on the album, Bernard was apparently unhappy with the results; and so, for one reason or another, he left the band just before the album was completed.

Following an ad placed in Melody Maker, Suede recruited unknown 17-year-old Richard Oakes to quickly learn the songs in time for a tour to support the album, most notably a co-headlining tour of Europe with the Manic Street Preachers. Three singles were released from Dog Man Star; We Are The Pigs, just before the album's release; The Wild Ones and finally New Generation in January of '95, by which time Oakes and Anderson had co-written their first songs, the none-too-remarkable Bentswood Boys and Together. As b-sides go, these aren't bad songs; but they were hardly impressive compared to what lurked on the flip-side of previous Suede singles, and were no indicator as to where the band were heading to next...

wick informs me that the title Dog Man Star was probably taken from Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man, a short film from 1961. Another common theory is that it's a composite of Bowie titles; Diamond Dogs, The Man Who Sold The World, Starman, for example.

Track Listing:

  1. Introducing The Band
  2. We Are The Pigs1
  3. Heroine
  4. The Wild Ones2
  5. Daddy's Speeding
  6. The Power
  7. New Generation3
  8. This Hollywood Life
  9. The 2 Of Us
  10. Black Or Blue
  11. The Asphalt World
  12. Still Life
All tracks: Lyrics by Anderson, Music by Butler

Dog Man Star opens with a pounding drum and a throbbing bassline, before the distorted guitar line kicks in; Introducing The Band is an odd, psychadelic and ominous number; the lyrics to the four verses could possibly be interpreted to signify the four members of Suede, but then again, so could a random verse of Nostradamus. The lyrics are quite portentous, and serve notice of the pomp and ceremony that was to come. This track was later remixed by E2 icon Brian Eno, and slated for release as a single; instead, it was shoved out as the b-side of The Wild Ones.

Next is the first single, We Are The Pigs, which was kind of a red herring; it's probably the closest relative here to the catchy glam of their début album, but again, the lyrics are pretty apocalyptic, a change of direction from the somewhat fetishistic likes of Animal Nitrate. The chorus of children at the end of the song (singing "We will watch them burn") was somewhat reminiscent of Panic by Anderson's idols The Smiths; this was most likely deliberate. Track three is the *very* equivocal Heroine. Ostensibly about female heroes, like Marilyn Monroe, it take no great leap of the imagination to drop the "e", giving a song about Heroin - lyrics include "I'm 18, I need my heroines/I'm aching, been dying for hours". Musically, it's a harder, tighter version of their usual glam rock, with a wailing guitar sound that I personally adore.

Things calm down a bit with track four, and second single, The Wild Ones. It's a beautiful, sweeping, romantic crooner, a bit like a castrato version of Scott Walker. Of course, this being Suede, Brett has to mention that "on you my tattoo will be bleeding"; also, mention of another concern of his, escape from suburban hell - "We'll go from the bungalows where the debts still grow each day".

Daddy's Speeding is next; quite an experimental track, Brett croons a slightly overwrought song about James Dean over more distorted guitar and piano. Lyrically, Daddy's Speeding is quite Bowie-esque; it reminds me in paricular of Time (from Aladdin Sane) - compare "Time - he's waiting in the wings/He speaks of senseless things" with "Sorrow turns his eyes to mine/Come with me, now, it's your time".

The Power, track six, is something of a breath of fresh air; with a breezy string section and light guitar, it's about escapism again - "Through endless Asia, through the fields of Cathay/Or enslaved in a pebble-dashed grave with a kid on the way", although with a slightly vicious edge ("Give me the power, and I'll make them bleed"). The relative simplicity of the guitar parts on The Power are at least partially down to the fact that it was completed after Bernard Butler's departure, meaning that Brett had to play it himself. A version of this song in French was once mooted for release as a single in France; I remember an amusing Melody Maker interview with the Manic Street Preachers, while touring France with Suede, describe Brett yodelling "Donnez-moi la puissance!" in his dressing room...

Next up the the soulful New Generation, sounding kind of like a glammy version of Motown, with it's fuzzy guitar and brass section. Lyrically, it seems to be finding optimism and hope in a combination of drugs ("We'd take the pills to find each other") and music ("We spread it around to the techno sound"); a paean to the E generation, which would become a recurring theme in Suede's later work. This Hollywood Life leads in with a saxophone solo, before the start of a filthy, fuzzy guitar riff. Brett hysterically sings this short song about a female rock-star ("She-rocker hear the audience scream") who wants out ("Come rescue, rescue me, from this Hollywood life"). The whole is a pleasingly over the top rocker.

The 2 of Us is a beautifully delicate piece, inspired by Two Of Us by the Beatles (off Let It Be). Accompanied by only a piano, and the subtly rising swell of an orchestra in all the right places, Brett sings of a lonely house wife, bored at home, listening wistfully to her favourite song - "I listen to the man/He said that it could be the 2 of us". Black Or Blue is quite a tender, romantic love-song ("Me and the stars stay up for you" is one of my favourite Anderson lines), backed by epic strings again, although there is always the suggestion of violence (Black or Blue being a reference to bruising).

The only song that seems to overreach itself even slightly is This Asphalt World. It opens slightly like One by U2, low key guitar and keyboards, and some organ chords scattered around; telling the tale of a woman "with ice in her blood/And a dove in her head". It's certainly one of Dog Man Star's most blatant drug songs, the second line being "She comes to me and I supply her with Ecstacy"; it seems that Brett has to share this woman with another woman - "Who does she love, in time-honoured fur/Is it me or her?", and later "Yes both of us need her, this is the asphalt world". Epic, somewhat histrionic, also a little underwhelming, but still a great song.

But probably the best song is left for last. The only glimpse of new Suede material I recall in late '93/early '94 (aside from Stay Together) was seeing Brett and Bernard play an acoustic version of Still Life on a music show called Naked City. It sounded fantastic, but as the album wouldn't be released for months and months afterwards, my cousin Eoin bet me that Still Life wouldn't be on the album. He was proved wrong, and gladly; Still Life begins with simple acoustic guitar plucking, and builds up to a majestic orchestral crescendo by the end. Lyrically, it's quite bare; a song of obsession ("I quietly killed for you") with, perhaps, a celebrity ("They think they don't know me, but hired a car for you"). The song swipes the string parts from Morrissey's Will Never Marry, and puts them to damn good use, winding out the album with sweeping orchestral grandeur, fitting to such and epic and ambitious album.

To sum up; Dog Man Star is the album that saw Anderson and Butler's grandest ambitions crystalised on a large scale; it may not have sold quite as much as their début, but Dog Man Star showed that Suede had more drive, ambition and grandeur than any of their Britpop rivals. Unfortunately, with Bernard Butler's departure, they would change tack to become creators of fairly disposable glam tunes with more style than substance. Suede mark one: we mourn your passing.

  • 1: We Are The Pigs was released as a single September 1994, with the b-sides Killing Of A Flash Boy and Whipsnade
  • 2: The Wild Ones was released as a single November 1994, with the b-sides Introducing the Band (Eno Version), Modern Boys, This World Needs A Father and Asda Town
  • 3: New Generation was released as a single January 1995, with the b-sides Together, Bentwood Boys, Animal Nitrate (live), The Wild Ones (live), and Pantomime Horse (live).

Dedicated forget...