Suede (called The London Suede in the United States) were an English alternative rock band of the 1990s and the early 2000s that helped start the Britpop musical movement. Through their several incarnations, they were able to consistently put out albums that charted well, while still holding the respect of critics. Although they never achieved great success in North America, they are considered to be one of the most successful British rock bands of the 90s.
Brett Anderson and Justine Frischmann met while studying at University College London and became a couple soon afterwards. Together with Anderson's childhood friend Mat Osman, they decided they had a core of a band, and spent hours a day playing covers of The Beatles, The Smiths, and David Bowie. The trio decided that neither Anderson nor Frischmann had the skill to be a lead guitarist, so they placed an advert in NME seeking to fill the position. Nineteen-year-old Bernard Butler replied and auditioned to join the group. The group settled on the name Suede; lacking a drummer, the band initially utilised a drum machine. Despite Frischmann's efforts as the group's de facto manager, the group primarily scored small-scale gigs around London's Camden Town area.
Suede briefly employed Justin Welch as drummer. After Welch's departure, Suede placed another advert seeking a replacement. To the group's surprise, the ad was answered by former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. While Joyce determined he was overqualified for the position, he recorded two songs with the group, which were set to be released as the "Be My God"/"Art" single on RML Records. The band was dissatisfied with the result, and most of the five hundred copies pressed were destroyed. The band found a permanent drummer, Simon Gilbert, who joined in June 1990.
By 1991, Anderson and Frischmann had broken up; Frischmann started dating Damon Albarn of the group Blur. Frischmann believed the group could accommodate the new situation. However the situation grew tense; 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 that Brett phoned me up and said, 'I've kicked her out.'" After Frischmann's departure, the character of the group changed. "If Justine hadn't left the band", Anderson said, "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." Anderson and Butler became close friends and began writing several new songs together. However, the band's music was out-of-step with the music of their London contemporaries as well as the American grunge bands. Anderson said, "For the whole of 1991, A&R men wouldn't give us a second look."
Early singles and debut album (1992–1993)
Through the end of 1991 Suede received a number of favourable mentions in the music press, garnering them slots at shows hosted by NME and attended by musical figures such as former Smiths singer Morrissey. After seeing the group perform as an NME show in February 1992, Saul Galpern approached the group about signing to his independent record label Nude Records. Prior to the release of the group's first single, the cover of the 21 April issue of Melody Maker featured the group, with a headline stating "Suede: The Best New Band in Britain".
The band's debut single "The Drowners" attracted excitement because of its sharp contrast to the dying Madchester scene and the U.S. grunge sound of the time. Suede were further distinguished from their contemporaries by Anderson's flamboyant looks and unique vocals, combined with Butler's melodic guitar playing. "The Drowners" was a moderate hit, reaching number 49 on the UK Singles Chart. In August 1992 they released their second single, "Metal Mickey", followed by a top ten hit, "Animal Nitrate", in February 1993.
The band's first album Suede (1993) sold over 100,000 copies in its first week of release. Their American success was limited, despite securing a tour slot with The Cranberries, who had support from MTV. Moreover, a lounge singer's lawsuit forced the band to stop using the trademarked American name "Suede". For their subsequent releases and shows performed in the United States, the band used the moniker "The London Suede". Anderson wasn't happy about having to change the group's name for the U.S. market, as he stated: "The London Suede is not the name I chose for the band, I didn't change it happily, and I'm not going to pretend I did." During the tour Butler became alienated from the group, which was coupled with the death of his father. At times the guitarist left the stage while Suede was performing and convinced a member of the Cranberries to fill in for him.
Butler departs, Oakes joins (1994–1997)
In February 1994, the band released "Stay Together", which became their highest charting single at the time, reaching number three in the UK. Following the group's American tour, Anderson isolated himself and wrote songs for Suede's next album. During the making of the album, the group often recorded songs with long lengths. Osman said he, Anderson, and Gilbert often thought these tracks were the result of Butler trying to wind the band members up. The guitarist clashed with producer Ed Buller, and Anderson recalled that Butler and the rest of the group largely recorded their parts separately. Days after Butler's wedding, he returned to the studio to find he was not being allowed in. After a tense phone conversation with Anderson, Butler left the group, leaving much of the album still uncompleted.
Suede announced their new guitarist, 17 year-old Richard Oakes, in September 1994. Led by the single "We Are the Pigs", Dog Man Star (1994) finally appeared in late 1994. The album was well-received by critics and entered the UK Albums Chart at number three, but slid quickly down the charts. In 1995, the group contributed a track to the The Help Album charity compilation, covering Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding".
Suede released their third album Coming Up in 1996. Anderson said that in contrast to the group's previous albums (which he felt "suffered at certain times from being quite obscure"), he intended Coming Up to be almost like a Greatest Hits". The band was joined by new member Neil Codling, a cousin of Simon Gilbert who handled keyboards and a little guitar. The first single from the album, "Trash" was popular and tied with "Stay Together" as the group's highest charting UK single, reaching number three, which helped to make the album their biggest mainstream success. The album was a hit throughout Europe, Asia and Canada, but still not in the U.S. Reviews were again mixed, but the album topped the UK chart and became the band's biggest-selling release. The album brought the band five straight top-10 singles. Due to the success of the album, Suede secured top billing at the 1997 Reading Festival. The band's next venture was a collection of B-sides and rarities entitled Sci-Fi Lullabies, which reached number nine on the UK Album Chart.
Late history (1998–2002)
By the time the compilation was released in 1997 the Britpop movement was noticeably waning in popularity, and the band had decided to split with long-time producer Ed Buller before commencing work on their follow up to Coming Up. Before focusing work on their next album, the group recorded a version of "Poor Little Rich Girl" for the Twentieth-Century Blues: The Songs of Noel Coward in 1998. Despite being backed by the popular lead single "Electricity", Suede's fourth album, Head Music (1999) was something of a critical disappointment, though it once again took the band to number one on the UK Albums Chart. A synth-infused album that focused less on guitar riffs and more on keyboards, it was produced by Steve Osborne, who had worked with Happy Mondays and New Order. Critical opinion was sharply divided; many felt the record was too shallow and lacking in substance, while others thought the album was the group again taking a different direction and charting new territory.
The next three singles released from the album failed to crack the top 10, breaking a run stretching back to 1996's "Trash". The b-sides for the singles were also arguably not up to par with their usual standard, which hinted at the drying up of the creative well. Anderson also began being criticized more by fans for his often use of redundant vocabulary and limited lyrical themes. Despite this, even with their drop in mainstream popularity, the band still maintained a large core group of fans. Not long after the release of Head Music, Nude Records effectively ceased to exist. Like many of their labelmates, Suede ended up signing to Nude's parent company/distributor Sony to record their fifth album, A New Morning (2002). The long and troubled gestation of the album saw keyboardist Neil Codling leave the band, citing chronic fatigue syndrome, to be replaced by long-time band associate Alex Lee, formerly of Strangelove.
In concerts, Lee played second guitar, as well as keyboards, backing vocals and, at one point, harmonica. The album title, according to Anderson, referred to "a fresh start, a new band and a new fresh outlook" – the singer had reportedly been addicted to heroin and crack cocaine for a number of years by this time, which was having an increasingly deleterious effect on his health. He was quoted at the time as saying "we've all cleaned up our drug problems ... which is nice." Despite the rejuvenation of the group's health, the album was a commercial disappointment which failed to crack the top 20, and ultimately was never released in the U.S. Although the group began work with Tony Hoffer producing, the album was produced by "big name" Britpop producers John Leckie (The Stone Roses, Radiohead) and Stephen Street (The Smiths, Blur). A New Morning was considered a solid enough outing by fans of the band, but critical reaction was decidedly lukewarm and the mainstream public interest had long disappeared. Only two singles, "Positivity" and "Obsessions," were released from the album, the fewest singles taken from any of the band's albums, and neither charted particularly well.
In October 2003, Suede released their second compilation album Singles, and accompanying single "Attitude". The group had begun working on a follow-up album to A New Morning, which was planned to be released after the Singles compilation. Anderson said that "Most of the new material is more aggressive and less song based than A New Morning." And that the album would "sound nothing like traditional Suede." The planned album never saw release.
Suede played five nights at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, dedicating each night to one of their five albums and playing through an entire album a night – with B-sides and rarities as encores – in chronological order. After these shows, the band announced there would be no more projects under the Suede name for the foreseeable future – effectively announcing the end of the band, as they stated on their website: "There will not be a new studio album until the band feel that the moment is artistically right to make one." Their last concert at London's Astoria on 13 December 2003 was a two-and-a-half hour marathon show, split into two parts (plus encore) with the first part being "songs we want to play". Brett made an announcement that "there will be another Suede album" to everyone's delight, but added "...but not yet."
Aftermath and Legacy
Anderson and Butler briefly reunited in 2004, after a ten year hiatus, and resurfaced with a project named The Tears. Their debut album Here Come The Tears received favourable reviews, however, failed to generate enough interest from fans, except the very hardcore ones. Material in the album followed the blueprint of early Suede work, albeit with a rejuvenated soundset and a fresher production. The band have been on indefinite hiatus since 2006. Anderson has released two solo albums, with a third album due in October 2009. Butler has been working as a producer, collaborating with artists such as 1990s, Black Kids, Sons And Daughters and welsh singer Duffy. He is currently working with Kate Jackson and Kate Nash, who are both writing material for forthcoming releases.
Suede's legacy is largely in inspiring the Britpop scene which eventually overshadowed the band's own achievements. Alexis Petridis wrote in 2005, "These days, rock historians tend to depict Suede's success as a kind of amuse bouche before the earth-shattering arrival of Britpop's main course". In an article about the British music press' "ferocious one-upmanship campaign" of the mid-1990s, Caroline Sullivan, writing for The Guardian in February 1996, noted Suede's appearance as an unsigned band on the cover of Melody Maker as a pivotal moment in the history of Britpop;
Suede appeared on Melody Maker's cover before they had a record out... The exposure got them a record deal, brought a bunch of like-minded acts to the public's attention, and helped create Britpop. It was the best thing to happen to music in years, and it mightn't have happened without that Suede cover.
- Harris, John. Britpop!: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock. Da Capo Press, 2004. ISBN 0-306-81367-X
Biography from Wikipedia