As Suede’s Coming Up reaches its second decade, I am reminded of this brilliant and exhilarating band. Though they have recently reformed (older, greyer, and wiser), their first two albums, like lost portraits of Dorian Grey, have stubbornly defied the corrosive hands of time and still possess the power to conjure up those confusing, intoxicating days of youth.
With Butler playing Marr to Anderson’s Morrissey, Suede and Dog Man Star are crammed with exquisite snapshots of the shimmering hopes and desires of adolescence. Full of songs that effortlessly capture the shove and tussle of teenage dreams that are born out of some muddled, aching sense of longing, when the world is forever undulating and unfurling before us and is there for the taking.
Unlike The Smiths, whose songs often regaled in a hazy England of the past, Suede dragged the angst and the aspiration kicking and screaming into the cacophonous confines of modern council blocks and slums by way of the Romantic poets. They plunged us into a landscape where England’s green and pleasant land had long since capitulated, giving way to a mass of sprawling motorways and lanes that led to endless concrete towns and cities paved with tarmac and tears.
Yet, throughout these sweeping songs that are at once both grandiose and humdrum, hopeful and despondent, intoxicating and sobering, a small sense of hope permeates. These are songs that flicker like grainy vignettes of urban thirst and yearning projected against the side of stained, grey buildings in some strange Ballardian dream.
Even now when those dreams have scattered and have long since been replaced by the responsibilities of parenthood and financial planning (for band and audience), it is difficult to listen to Dog Man Star or their majestic, thrilling debut and not be carried away for brief moments on the wings of those once hopeful, swelling dreams, back to those days where a thin line of optimism and despair hung just above our heads; to days that were full of endless decisions and revisions and where the future stretched out infinitely before us.
And in those moments when we find ourselves looking back at ourselves looking forward; wondering what will be, when, and with whom. We see those dream and hopes that rose and fell and swelled about our feet, and we think to ourselves: ‘it hasn’t turned out too badly after all.’ Throughout the jubilation and disappointment, the contentment and rage, the hope and despair, everything, it seems, is in its right place. As it was always meant to be. And with such thoughts and memories in mind I listen again to these two brilliant albums and appreciate them with a newfound understanding that only age can bring. The songs of innocence, it seems, have become songs of experience.