Suede Biography

This hugely promoted UK band broke through in 1993 by merging the lyrical perspective of Morrissey with the posturings of David Bowie and the glam set. Brett Anderson (29 September 1967, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, England; vocals) quickly established a rare gift for brilliantly evocative mood swings and monochrome dioramas. Just as much was made of Bernard Butler (b. 1 May 1970, Stamford Hill, London, England; guitar) and his similarity to indie guitar hero Johnny Marr (Smiths, Electronic). The rhythm section of the band comprises Mat Osman (b. Mathew David Osman, 9 October 1967, Welwyn Garden City, England; bass) and Simon Gilbert (b. 23 May 1965, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England; drums), a position for which Mike Joyce (ex-Smiths) originally tried out. Anderson and Osman had originally met at Haywards Heath Sixth Form College, playing together in various bands including Geoff, Bruiser and Suave And Elegant. The pair both decamped to London in the late 80s, where they met up with Justine Frischmann. The future Elastica singer became Anderson’s partner and played with and helped promote the band in their early days. She left shortly after Gilbert joined Anderson, Osman and Butler in June 1991.

Suede began to generate a strong word-of-mouth reputation, and won Gary Crowley’s demo clash on BBC GLR Radio for five weeks running. Anderson’s arrogant wit and seedy, sexually ambivalent narratives fascinated the press at a time when the music scene was dominated by American grunge and the UK’s ‘Madchester’ bands. They signed a two-single contract with Nude Records in February 1992. Their first release, ‘The Drowners’, arrived in March 1992, and ‘My Insatiable One’, on the b-side, was a brooding low-life London tale of ‘shitting paracetamol on the escalator’, which so impressed Morrissey he would later cover it live.

By this time, the mainstream music media, starved of an adequate figurehead for the 90s, had latched onto the band in a quite disconcerting manner. Q magazine put them on a front cover before the release of their debut album, a previously unthinkable concession. Their second single, ‘Metal Mickey’, broke into the UK Top 20 in September, following which they signed with Sony Music worldwide (while remaining loyal to Nude in the UK). Their appearance at February 1993’s televised BRIT Awards gave them massive exposure, and their third single, ‘Animal Nitrate’, broke into the UK Top 10. On the back of this high profile the band’s debut album went straight to number 1 in the UK charts, going gold on the second day of release. Again, much of the lyrical imagery was deliberately homoerotic, reflected in the sleeve artwork. The picture of two androgynous figures kissing, taken by Tee Corrine, was cut to head and shoulders to hide the identity of the two disabled women involved.

Suede proceeded to go from strength to strength, winning the Mercury Music Prize in September. All seemed rosy in the garden until the eve of their second album in 1994, when it was announced that Butler had left the band (later interviews had hinted at rancour between Anderson and the guitarist). He would be replaced by a 17-year-old unknown Richard Oakes (b. 1 October 1976, Perivale, London, England). However, as the writing for Dog Man Star (which emerged to mixed reviews) had already been completed, there was little immediate evidence on which to gauge the reshuffled Suede until 1995. Chart returns, on the other hand, suggested that the band’s chart thunder may have been stolen by Blur and Oasis. The album stayed at the top of the UK charts for three weeks, but was quickly deposed by the latter’s Definitely Maybe. Butler, meanwhile, went on to write well-regarded new material with David McAlmont and later embarked on a solo career.

In early 1996, Neil Codling (b. 5 December 1973, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England; keyboards), cousin of drummer Simon Gilbert, became the band’s official fifth member. Great pressure was on the band for their third album, a lengthy gap between releases and the fickle music public being major factors. Any fears were dispelled by Coming Up, as it was a stunning collection of crafted, concise songs, epitomised by July’s UK number 3 single ‘Trash’. The album became the band’s third successive UK chart-topper. The following year’s Sci-Fi Lullabies collected together their consistently excellent b-sides. In 1999, the band premiered their new album with April’s UK number 5 single ‘Electricity’. The following month Head Music entered the UK album chart at number 1, although it soon dropped down, leaving pundits to agree that Suede’s commercial star had faded. In March 2001 it was announced that Codling, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, would be replaced in the line-up by Alex Lee (b. 16 March 1970, Bristol, England; ex-Strangelove). The following year’s A New Morning was the most mainstream outing of the band’s career, but failed to revive their commercial fortunes.

In 2003, Suede summarized its career with a compilation release and, in September, a week-long residency at the London Institute of Contemporary Art, over the course of which they played each of their five albums in its entirety. The band members announced that they would be putting Suede in the history books and were set to work on individual projects at the end of the same year’s European tour. ‘Time’s have changed and the band feel out of step at the moment’, was a quote from their management. The most inspiring project to emerge saw Anderson teaming up with former creative partner Bernard Butler in a new band called the Tears.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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