Suede are one of the most influential British bands of the last 30 years. They were formed in 1989 by frontman Brett Anderson, guitarist Justine Frischmann (latterly of Elastica) and Anderson’s childhood friend and bassist Mat Osman. At this infantile stage, the three were united musically by a love of Roxy Music, The Smiths, David Bowie and The Cure, and jammed out covers of them. However, quickly, the aspiring trio acknowledged the fact that they needed a lead guitarist.
They placed an advert in an October issue of NME that year, and it read: “Young guitar player needed by London based band. Smiths, Commotions, Bowie, Pet Shop Boys. No Musos. Some things are more important than ability. Call Brett.” The advert attracted the 19-year-old Bernard Butler, who was swiftly hired as the band’s lead axe-man. Still without a drummer and using a drum machine, the band settled on the name Suede.
In June 1990, the band hired drummer Simon Gilbert through a mutual friend, Ricky Gervais, yes, that Ricky Gervais. This was to be the final piece of the puzzle, or so they thought. We forgot to mention that for the majority of Suede’s existence, up until spring 1990, Anderson and Frischmann had been a romantic couple. Around the time of Gilbert’s hiring, she had started dating Damon Albarn, the frontman of London contemporaries, Blur. She felt that the band could accommodate the situation; however, things soon became tense between her and her ex-lover. Butler recalled: “She’d turn up late for rehearsals and say the worst thing in the world – ‘I’ve been on a Blur video shoot.’ That was when it ended, really. I think it was the day after she said that Brett phoned me up and said, ‘I’ve kicked her out.'”
This would be the real turning point for the band, and it would both cement and galvanise what would become their classic lineup. After Frischmann’s departure, the group dynamic shifted. “If Justine hadn’t left the band,” Anderson said later, “I don’t think we’d have got anywhere. It was a combination of being personally motivated, and the chemistry being right once she’d left.”
Fast forward to February 1992, and the band were signed to the independent record label, Nude. Hailed by the press “as the next big thing”, they released their first single, ‘The Drowners’, in May that year. The band were fast on their way to becoming one of Britain’s best-beloved bands.
Known for being an arty, David Bowie-esque outfit, Suede’s first two records, Suede and Dog Man Star, are hailed as classics and are often mentioned in the same breath as Pulp’s Different Class, the era’s ultimate British masterpiece. However, tensions would soon erupt within the band. Engulfed by all the trappings of stardom, excess and all, something had to give. Butler, who had become hailed as the spiritual successor to The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr, departed the group in spring 1994, citing tensions between him and Anderson.
Things got so fraught that, according to John Harris, the last words Butler said to Anderson before departing were “you’re a fucking cunt”. Fans thought this was the end of Suede, as they thought surely Butler could not be replaced. How wrong they were. Suede knew they weren’t going to split. The band would regroup and continue on their successful run throughout the rest of the decade. A big part of this was in hiring 17-year-old replacement guitarist Richard Oakes, a dead ringer in tone and technique to Butler, who seamlessly fit into the band. Strangely, this presents itself as a similar situation to that in which Red Hot Chili Peppers found themselves after the death of original guitarist Hillel Slovak and the hiring of the teenage fan, John Frusciante.
As the ’90s wore on, interest in ‘Britpop’ waned and excess continued to engulf the band, they would call it quits in October 2003. However, in 2011, they reformed. Now, maturer and not wracked by addiction, they embarked on the fourth chapter in their career. Seemingly hitting their artistic stride, this has given us three albums to date.
Starting with 2013’s Bloodsports, with the most recent one being 2018’s The Blue Hour, this trio of albums has been hailed by Suede fans and critics as containing some of the finest moments in their entire career.
In fact, 2016’s Night Thoughts is said to be their finest since 1994’s Dog Man Star. An incredibly unique and influential band, we can only hope that Suede continues on this brilliant run of form they’ve had over the 2010s.
All this talk of Suede got us thinking, how do their albums rank in order of greatness? We’ve undertaken the mighty task of organising the band’s albums, so you don’t have to. A little reminder, this is just our opinion, but it should inspire healthy debate.
Suede’s albums ranked from worst to best:
8. A New Morning (2002)
There could be no other entry to take up this position. The ’90s had ended and Suede’s relevance was struggling under the spectre of the new, raucous wave of guitar bands such as The Libertines and The Strokes.
Claimed by Anderson to be the “first-ever record that wasn’t influenced in its making by drugs”, it took its lyrical cues from the likes of Albert Camus, Leonard Cohen and Paul Auster, giving it a lyrical density we’d never seen with Suede before.
Produced by the legendary Stephen Street, it is in no way a bad album, it’s just not a great album either. Rather vacuous, musically, it leaves you yearning for the Suede of old. The record attempts to be the old Suede without actually being the old Suede – lacking the band’s unique gusto. Herein lies the problem.
7. Head Music (1999)
Being so low down is probably going to irk a few diehard Suede fans, however, one thinks Head Music came from the time where Britpop had really become a caricature of itself.
Fusing rock and the electronic, it contains within it the hedonistic essence of the turn of the millennium music. A worse version of its predecessor Coming Up, Head Music isn’t a terrible album by any stretch of the imagination, just many parts of it don’t hold up today.
It’s understandable that Suede wanted to move in a different direction, it just didn’t come off all that well. However, the album’s high points are brilliant. The chorus of the lead single, the aptly titled ‘Electricity’ is one of the band’s best, and ‘Everything Will Flow’ contains many flecks of early Suede, making the record a worthwhile experience.
6. The Blue Hour (2018)
A strong and moody piece of art-rock, The Blue Hour, contains moments where Suede are at their most majestic. Augmented by the expert production of Alan Moulder, the record is one we suspect will age like a fine wine. It’s a surreal one, and at points, the band sound like a mix between Placebo and Ennio Morricone. We love it.
Throughout their career, the band had always teased that they had a deeply emotive, theatrical sensibility, and on The Blue Hour, it really comes to the fore.
The lead single ‘The Invisibles’ is a haunting, orchestral delight. ‘Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You’, is undoubtedly the highlight, a gothic show of arms. On the track Osman delivers one of his finest grooving basslines, providing the track with its strong centre point.
5. Bloodsports (2013)
Bloodsports is a highly underrated Suede album. Their first album since 2002 can only be described as a triumph. Sounding like a cross between the band’s first two records, its main concern with all things carnal, and really made it sound like it was the classic lineup of Suede who are playing.
The lead single ‘It Starts and Ends with You’ is a brilliant anthem. The use of a dense, spacey reverb on Anderson’s voice really brings the song into a different realm, and it makes his vocals hit you right in the feels. ‘Hit Me’ and ‘Barriers’, are also stellar highlights. In fact, one would argue the album doesn’t have a bad track.
4. Coming Up (1996)
Undoubtedly Suede’s most ‘Britpop’ record, Coming Up was also the first since the departure of Butler. Nominated for the coveted Mercury Prize, it was loved by fans and critics alike, appealing to the colourful hedonism of the mid-1990s.
Boasting singles such as ‘Trash’, ‘Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Filmstar’, the album is a strong one. Containing unashamedly pop melodies, and Anderson coming into his own as Ziggy Stardust‘s modern child, Coming Up transports you back to a time where optimism abounded.
Although it is now slightly dated due to just how unashamedly ’90s and British it is, Coming Up is a wildly entertaining journey from start to finish. In this sense, it can be hailed as the beginning of the end for Suede’s original run.
3. Night Thoughts (2016)
This is Suede at their most refined, there can be no question about it. A culmination of everything that came before, it is a streamlined and mature outing that really marks Suede out as the geniuses they are, and not another kitsch act like many of their contemporaries from their heyday have become.
Arty, moody, glam, pop; it encompasses so many different genres and emotions and has you on the edge of your seat from the outset. You could even maybe afford it the title of a concept album.
The first album of theirs to be mainly written by none of the original members, but by Richard Oakes and second guitarist Neil Codling, Night Thoughts is a refreshing delight, not only within Suede but in general music too.
Brought to life by the visual delight of Roger Sargent’s feature film that accompanies the record, Suede hit their artistic peak. It leaves us wanting more.
2. Suede (1993)
Ask me on a different day and my opinion would have changed. It’s the age-old question. Today though, I’m making the bold jump. Although Suede is incredible, in terms of musicality, Dog Man Star pips it.
Regardless, Suede’s debut studio record is nothing short of a classic. ‘Animal Nitrate’, ‘The Drowners’, ‘Metal Mickey’, ‘So Young’, ‘She’s Not Dead’, the album is brimming with classics. We get Bernard Butler’s best guitar work on Suede, and I defy anyone to argue otherwise because to do so would be simply untrue.
The rawest, most unapologetic version of the band, Suede, is always worth a revisit. It marked the band out as one of the UK’s hottest bands, who expertly reappropriated the swagger of glam rock via the attitude of Generation X and grunge.
It is also a stark reflector of the fact that you can buy a reasonable replacement, but it’ll never beat the original.
1. Dog Man Star (1994)
The only reason Dog Man Star pipped Suede to the top spot was because it is a much denser record than the band’s first outing. Dark and deliciously wicked, it takes the musical ethos of the first album and embellishes it. It is drenched in the darker side of the human ideation. Another record with no downside, it contains classic after classic.
‘Introducing the Band’, ‘We Are the Pigs’, ‘Heroine’, The Wild Ones’, ‘New Generation’, it’s stuffed with melodic masterpieces. Every cog in the Suede machine shines.
Many distinctions have been drawn between it and Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, as its relationship to Suede is uncannily like Aladdin Sane‘s with Ziggy Stardust. A much darker, separate side to the same coin.
Special mention needs to be given to ‘The Wild Ones’. An ode to an ex-girlfriend of Anderson’s, it is one of the most emotional moments in their entire back catalogue. It appeals to the heartbreak we’ve all felt at points in our lives.
A real tearjerker, it is beautiful and poetic, and the lyrics display Anderson as not only a wonderful frontman but an incredibly gifted and complex wordsmith as well.