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Great for newbies, but ....,
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This review is from: Head Music (Audio CD)
Having finally managed to absorb all five of these deluxe re-releases I can now review each of them.
There were probably only four major Britpop bands during the genre's mid 90's explosion, but dozens and dozens of lesser lights trailing in their wake (in this respect it was somewhat like punk); these four were Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede. Suede were the first of these, although it's perhaps an exaggeration to say that they invented the genre as it would have happened anyway. Blur and Oasis broke through within a few months of Suede's first album, whilst Pulp had been around in one form or another for many years predating all the others and had released some records, although they remained unknown until Britpop. However despite this Suede are acknowledged as the first Britpop band and for me they were always probably the most interesting of the big four. It cannot be denied however that they declined commercially extremely quickly and were superseded by Blur and especially by Oasis. Suede's Singles collection released in 2003 after the band had split didn't even make the top thirty (although I don't think Pulp's Greatest Hits released around the same time fared much better), whilst nowadays it's impossible to virtually give their albums away. I should know as no one seems to want to even offer 10p for the original releases of their final two albums which I have been trying to offload having bought these new editions.
Anyone with any interest in Suede will have heard the music on the original albums so it is perhaps sensible to concentrate mainly on the extra material included in these reissues. However before doing so I would make a few comments about the albums themselves. The first observation is that for me at least the final two albums released when Suede were in commercial decline are nowhere near as poor artistically as commonly thought. Both Head Music and A New Morning still hold up extremely well today and both feature many excellent tunes. Indeed Suede never really made a bad album which is probably more than can be said for the other three major Britpop bands. Having listened to all five albums again several times I would say that if one had to single out the weakest it might very well actually be the first one! Although this is more perhaps a case of overfamiliarity on my part. Suede's first three albums together with the B sides compilation Sci Fi Lullabies had all been released before I caught up with Britpop and I recall being slightly disappointed when I first bought Coming Up after the first two. However having listened to it again carefully it's actually a brilliant album and is almost certainly their most commercial, spawning as it did five hit singles.
Of course Suede's masterpiece is generally recognised to be their second album Dog Man Star. Having listened to it again several times this cannot be denied. Not only is it Suede's masterpiece and one of the five truly great Britpop albums (the others being Oasis's first two albums, Blur's Parklife and Pulp's Different Class) Dog Man Star is one of the greatest albums of any era. Songs such as The Wild Ones, Daddy's Speeding, The Power, The Asphalt World, and Still Life are as epic and moving as any songs released by anyone anywhere. Even had Bernard Butler stayed in the band it's doubtful they could have ever matched Dog Man Star and it's only compared to this epic masterpiece that their later music pales somewhat.
Moving on to the extra audio material included on these releases and most of this consists of B sides or demos. Most of the B sides from singles released from their first three albums were gathered up in 1997 on the double release Sci Fi Lullabies, and this excellent compilation reflected the high quality of Suede's B sides; the better ones such as My Insatiable One, The Living Dead, The Killing of A Flashboy and Europe Is Our Playground are as good as many of their album tracks, although if you already own Sci Fi Lullabies you will already have the best of these. The B sides of Head music and A New Morning do represent a drop in quality. Suede released three singles not on albums. The lengthy Stay Together, which attempts to be epic, but is actually my least favourite of their early singles, is included on Dog Man Star, whilst Attitude and Love The Way You Love are on A New Morning; all three were previously available on Singles anyway. So there is actually very little music that wasn't previously available; apart from the demos just a handful of tracks, none of which are that good, and the endless Eno version of Introducing The Band on Dog Man Star is a waste of space.
As I previously had all five albums together with Sci Fi Lullabies and the Singles collection for the three tracks unavailable elsewhere it was for the video material I mainly purchased these re-releases and I guess that would be the same for many Suede fans. And it is here I am afraid to say I am largely disappointed.
I had the Introducing The Band dvd which featured an excellent 1994 concert, or actually series of concerts edited to look like one, together with some promo videos. I sold the dvd thinking the concert would be duplicated on one of these discs, however it isn't and the concerts that do feature are worse video and audio quality.
The 1993 Sheffield Leadmill material is pretty awful in terms of both audio and video quality and doesn't make for repeated viewing. The slightly later Love and Poison from Brixton is far more professionally produced, but doesn't feel like a real concert as it is stylised with camera tricks (slow motion, etc) and intercut footage. As the concert develops the audio and visuals are out of synch, and all in all I found it unsatisfying. Moving on to Dog Man Star dvd and again the material is slightly disappointing with a so so electric performance and a short low key acoustic set both from different Paris venues. Coming Up features two more relatively short concerts - either Suede didn't play for that long in those days, or the entire concerts were never filmed, but none of the concerts last barely an hour. This time the London Roundhouse concert and yet another Paris performance are better audio and video quality. Head Music features a short concert filmed in front a fan club audience whilst A New Morning includes another rather low key performance from Singapore in front of a restrained audience and a short acoustic gig from Madrid.
Between them the five discs feature every Suede single promo video, together with a few extra promos. I have never been a great fan of promo videos, always preferring to see bands playing their material live, rather than miming and intercutting it often with sequences that have little to do with the music. However as promo videos go Suede, particularly early on, had some of the better ones, and I suppose they are nice to have. It does make Suede's other dvd Lost In TV now rather redundant.
Finally we come to the interviews. Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler are featured on Suede and Dog Man Star. However I can't comment on the Dog Man Star interview as owing to a production fault it won't play, despite my trying it in four different players. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this. The last three discs feature Anderson, Richard Oakes and Neil Codling. As expected Anderson dominated proceedings and for some reason Codling says little and looks rather uncomfortable throughout. Again they are nice to have and do feature some interesting comments on the music but once again you wouldn't play them more than a couple of times.
So there we have it, almost the entire history of Suede in five triple disc packages. When I first heard these discs were going to be realised I was quite excited thinking there would be lots of material I hadn't heard or seen from one of my favourite bands of the last few years. However I must admit I am a little disappointed now. If you already had the Suede cd's I had together with the Introducing the Band dvd then there isn't that much incentive to splash out once more on these discs. However if you're new to the band then you have a great treat in store.
And everyone should own a copy of the utterly brilliant Dog Man Star!