"In your tattoos you hide"
There are times when revisionism just gets it a bit wrong. In the early 90s, Suede were at the very vanguard of British guitar music. With the backing of the weekly music press, they gained a considerable amount of momentum, with frontman Brett Anderson even finding his way onto he front page of one of the monthly even before their much-anticipated debut album was released. Almost inevitably, their self-titled debut did sizeable business, however the recording of the considerably more ambitious follow up was troubled, tempers frayed and guitar maestro Bernard Butler left before the sprawling and brooding Dog Man Star was released. Despite it being arguably a better album than their debut, Dog Man Star failed to match the sales figures, while they replaced Butler with teenage guitar prodigy Richard Noakes and picked up a keyboard player on the way. A promotional tour followed, then it all went a bit quiet.
History would have us believe that Suede’s entire reputation rests on their first two albums, with their post-Butler material failing to meet the same high standards. This handily forgets the fact that their debut found them still a little naive and trying too hard to impress, while Dog Man Star tried even harder to impress, resulting in a grandiose, if somewhat cumbersome, album.
As good as their first two albums are (and they are very good indeed), I find the routine dismissal of Suede’s third album, Coming Up, to be somewhat unfair. Coming Up is the album which halted the pattern of decline which so many of the British guitar acts of the 90s followed (i.e. well received follow up stuffed full of singles, a ‘difficult’ follow up with fewer sales, and then the law of diminishing returns). Coming Up is an album stuffed full of accessible tunes which still stand up to scrutiny today, yet seemingly, because Bernard Butler is not involved, it is seen as one of Suede’s lesser works.
Well that’s absolute nonsense.
Following the epic and overblown Dog Man Star, Coming Up was a refreshing blast of metallic riffs, obvious choruses and radio-friendly tunes. Suede could have easily crumbled after the herculean effort that they had put into Dog Man Star, especially as much of their thunder had been subsequently stolen since by lesser acts. Killer tunes like “Trash”, “Filmstar”, “Lazy” and “Beautiful Ones” are the backbone of Coming Up, and remain some of the most enjoyable hit singles of the era, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have it’s reflective moments either, as “Picnic by the Motorway” and “Saturday Night” (another hit single), provide the album with considerably more reflective moments. Against all reasonable expectations Suede had returned form the most turbulent phase of their young career with the most listener-friendly album to date and proved that they had been worth the early hype.
Almost two decades on from its release, I still listen to Coming Up and still thrill at those buzzing little riffs, the singalong choruses and neon tunes. Sure, like a lot of what is termed Britpop, it’s almost completely rooted in the period that it was released, but in this case it takes me back to a time in my late teens when I had no commitments, a little surplus cash and a reasonable head of hair.