Looking back at Suede’s seminal album ‘Dog Man Star’
Brett Anderson wanted his music atmospheric, Bernard Butler wanted his elephantine. For a little while, both got what they wanted, but it came at a price, Butler’s position as guitarist superseded by teenaged Richard Oakes by the time of Dog Man Star’s promotion. Yet, what a send-off it was for the original line-up, a sprawling sophomore album, intemperate in European hallucinogenic paintings and characters. It was a song-craft disavowing the genre they helped initiate, echoing a dejected sexuality nowhere to be seen in the quarrelling works of messrs Albarn and Gallagher.
For Anderson, his lyrics painted the conceptual pathways led by Sgt.Peppers, as he opened the holistic work by paying attention to the musician’s craftsmanship. ‘Introducing The Band’, a drum heavy psychedelic work, set the romantically sadistic tone the album would flirt with. “I suppose by doing the concept album I was guilty of a bit of self-mythologising, but this had to be extraordinary and ambitious”. Anderson remembered in 2011. “I was locked away in this mad house reading George Orwell and cut off from the outside world. I was like a mad artist. And there were a lot of drugs involved.”
Butler’s ambition lay in the composited guitar parts, triggered in architectural design. ‘The Asphalt World’, a raw emotional jigsaw piecing the impasses of polyandry through concatenations, showcased his accuracies in a nine-minute mixture. For Butler, brevity defeated the purpose of the song, as an early take boasted an eight-minute guitar instrumental in its mix.
The album worked on decadent principles, decadent verses and decadent hedonism in a Britain positioned on decadent behaviour. Partying, celebrating and drug-taking had fastened to Suede’s touring schedule. The systematic guitarist found his bandmate’s liberal drug usage tiring and in a rare interview attacked his singer’s voice. Pained by the reception, Anderson focused his energy on the vocals, rather than a riposte, and ‘The Asphalt World’ emerged as one of his tangiest vocals.
By the wake of the release, Butler had left the band, he the victim of the “him or me” ultimatum he delivered about producer Ed Buller. Walking to the studio, Butler was refused entry, his guitars delivered timely onto the street’s pathway. Reconciliation proved futile, Butler using an unprintable pejorative to decorate Anderson during one of their last phone calls. Post Butler additions included a session player working through the pivoted ‘The Power’ chords, as well as a re-worked ending to the sepulchral ‘The Wild Ones’.
Despite the tumultuous recordings, Dog Man Star stands above the lighter pop records of the same year. Fiery rockers ‘We Are The Pigs’ and ‘New Generation’ crop through the speakers with Simon Gilbert’s violent drumming, Suede blowing through their punk surfaces while ‘Black Or Blue’ and ‘Still Life’ offer moments of stark lyrical introversion. ‘Heroine’ came closest to conventional pop, a gathering of fiery guitars settling Anderson’s stinging porn descriptors. It holds up these days, perhaps thanks to Radiohead making a lucrative career out of self-loathing, but in 1994, it stood out. For the gender bending, class ascending group, nothing else would have done.