To cap a hugely successful 12 months in which Suede released their first new material in ten years, Edsel Records have undertaken the substantial task of committing all of their previous albums to vinyl. Lovingly assembled in a hefty box set - 'A New Morning' and 'Sci-Fi Lullabies' having never previously made it to wax - along with a copy of this year's 'Bloodsports', its release provided a perfect excuse for Clash to take an album-by-album trip back through the band's history.
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The endorphin rush prompted by the first play of Suede's debut is still very much present 20 years on, the opening pairing of 'So Young' and 'Animal Nitrate' setting the tone for drug-tinged, suburban-based despair and talk of disappointing sex. Although there has been plenty of, not entirely undeserved, criticism for Brett Anderson's later approach to lyrics, it's hard to deny that lines like those found here - "in your council home, he jumped on your bones" - are gloriously evocative. Already tagged as 'The Best New Band in Britain' by Melody Maker, this set delivered on all of the hype and inadvertently sparked the Britpop movement - which they promptly ignored.
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'Dog Man Star' (1994)
The album on which ambition and arrogance combined to produce a true classic, utterly out of step with almost everything else released in 1994. Already resorting to songwriting by post, despite living near enough to walk, the tension between Anderson and Bernard Butler pushed the first phase of the band into supernova. Brett wrote of characters troubled by the spotlight while Bernard aimed for the stars, constructing huge arrangements for the songs that would mark the end of his time in the band. Such was the simmering atmosphere Butler didn't even make it onto some of these songs, having already left before they were recorded. Rejecting the adrenalin-glam of their debut, 'The Wild Ones', 'The Asphalt World' and 'Still Life' make for a staggeringly high career watermark. For such a grandiose achievement, a double-vinyl gatefold seems a fitting way to take in this wonderful record.
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'Coming Up' (1996)
With Butler long gone, replaced by then-teenage fan of the band Richard Oakes, and the ranks having been swelled by keyboard player Neil Codling, Suede pulled themselves back towards their earlier pop instincts, aiming to craft an album from which every track could be released as a single. As it happened, the crazy chart manoeuvres of the mid-nineties rendered this notion fifty per cent true, headed by the glorious outsider anthem 'Trash'. While it might not quite have the visceral thrill of the debut or the cerebral angst of its follow up, 'Coming Up' is a classic British guitar album that has lost none of its allure in the seventeen years since its release.
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'Sci-Fi Lullabies' (1997)
Having admired the way that The Smiths used their B-sides to try something different, Brett and Bernard thought this was the way Suede should reward their fans also. The sheer creative energy that fizzed through those first two albums is here writ large in the majesty of this substantial set of flipsides. Serving as an alternative history of the band, the album boasts several of the band's finest songs, including 'My Insatiable One', 'Killing Of A Flash Boy' and 'Coming Up'-era beauty 'Another No-One'. Things tail off a little towards the end, but it still serves as a remarkable collection that is arguably as good as those first three records. The new box is the first time this collection has made it to vinyl, and the six portions the format necessitates work rather well as jumping off points for the first five years of the band.
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'Head Music' (1999)
The not inconsiderable momentum built up during the 'Coming Up' campaign was nearly destroyed by this bloated, bizarre album. Maintaining the same imagery and formatting as the chart-shagging monster it followed, it should have been the moment to mark Suede as one of the biggest bands in Britain. However, thanks to some drug-addled production choices and somewhat injudicious track selection, it remains an almighty ‘what if’. Its return to vinyl seems to have drawn out its bottom end, giving a bit of heft to material which sounded rather insubstantial at the time. With the application of hindsight, it seems neither as risqué nor as grand an act of folly as it once did. 'Everything Will Flow', 'Down' and 'He's Gone' still stand up today and, while it began the band's fall from grace, it's an album not without its charms.
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'A New Morning' (2002)
Having suffered a lengthy and troubled gestation, the end result was met with critical and popular indifference. Rough edges had been smoothed, much of the vitality had dimmed and the essence of Suede was lost as Brett wilfully set about ignoring what had gone before. Almost optimistic at times, and still possessing some decent indie jangle, the album is not quite the disaster history recalls. 'Oceans', 'Beautiful Loser' and, most obviously, 'Lost In TV' can still stand tall, the latter track a clear sign of what the band were striving for. Sadly, multiple producers, a lack of direction and a sense that their star was fading ensured that such inspiration didn't quite run through the record as a whole. As a final album, it would have been merely a footnote, so we should be glad about what came 10 years later.
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For which the band got back together and found they had something worthwhile to say again. Initially treading the well-worn nineties reunion route, it became clear that the old frisson was still there. Conscious of how things had petered out a decade previous, the selection of material was arduous, with dozens of songs dispatched until it was felt that they had found their form again. The result is the natural follow up to 'Coming Up' that never originally came. 'Barriers' and 'Hit Me' possess that beautifully familiar swagger, while 'For The Strangers' and 'What Are You Not Telling Me?' reveal a band once again able to play with your emotions.
Words: Gareth James
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'Suede - The Vinyl Box Set' is out now on Edsel Records