Coming Up (Nude/Columbia)
by Nik Rainey
When guitarist/co-songwriter Bernard Butler split acrimoniously with (the London) Suede on the eve of the release of their second album, Dog Man Star, most understandably thought it was the end of a short but high-profile career. Singer/lyricist Brett Anderson’s flamboyant persona and controversially inscrutable press statements (“I consider myself a bisexual who’s never had a homosexual experience”) grabbed headlines in the British press and contributed to a confused attempt at heavy hype here in the States, but, like Johnny Marr’s contributions to the Smiths, it was Butler’s pop flair that helped Anderson’s provocations go down so brilliantly. So fans expecting a disappointing grasp at old glories (well, old in pop terms, at least) from Suede’s new album, Coming Up (Nude/Columbia), are sure to be pleasantly surprised. To be released in America in April after already reconquering the U.K. last year, Coming Up contains some of Suede’s most toothsome confections ever, frolicking through the seamy side of life with more unbuttoned glee than ever before. Songs like “Trash” (the single), “The Beautiful Ones,” and the hilarious “She” (“She, sh- shaking up the karma/ She, injecting mari-ij-you-wanna”) gleam with new guitarist Richard Oakes and keyboardist Neil Codling (cousin of drummer Simon Gilbert) in tow. Codling, who joined the band during the recording of the Coming Up demos and stuck around to co-write two of the album’s standouts, “Starcrazy” and “The Chemistry Between Us,” laughs that “no one’s yet sat me down and said `You’re in,’ so I’m not sure if I’m part of the group yet! I’m still getting my weekly retainer of 28 pence.”
Codling cites Butler’s departure as lifting the burden of tension within Suede. “Mat (Osman, bassist) is happy ‘cos he can now stand at the back of the stage for a change and not have to shove himself into the forefront. Everyone’s very relaxed now; we’re like a bunch of giggling girls, a happy amorphous blob. It’s a good feeling.” Along with that, Codling says the songwriting came much easier this time around. “Hit and hope” is how he describes the process. “It’s quite the opposite of Dog Man Star, where they really built up the arrangements – now, if something doesn’t hit the mark exactly, we get rid of it and start again. We kept everything stripped-down; we had a rule that there’d be no more than eight sounds going at any given time. It’s more basic, not so precious.”
This attitude allowed for a new spontaneity in the studio. “`Trash,’ for example, emerged in the middle of recording, and `…Chemistry…’ went from this bluesy, Stonesy `Waiting on a Friend’-type song to a more sweeping, orchestral-based sound.” In addition, the new album retains traces of the Bowie-crossed-with-Morrissey pop sound that brought them fame, but Codling warns against reading too much into that. “It’s lazy journalism, really,” he says. “It was flattering at first but it got to the point where we’d be given three column inches in a Finnish magazine and it’d read `la la la Suede… la la la Brett Anderson… la la la… Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars!!! I mean, we love both of them, but it’s far too reductive to say that’s all we’re about.”
Other than that, the response from the infamously fickle British music press has been “surprisingly favorable. It’s a little different now – when Suede first came `round, there wasn’t much competition, not much else going on in English music at the time. Now it’s a much more healthy situation in that way. I don’t think the press really knew what to make of it, to be honest. But we have a very committed fan base and our records sell pretty constantly, so we’ve sort of forced them to like us. Not much choice there.”
Fair enough, and with an American tour impending, Britpop fans across the colonies will have a chance to be forced to like this brand-new lineup for the very first time. Check `em out if you can. Any words of advice for the youth of America, Neil?
“Yeah – stay away from twelve-step programs.”