PERMANENT RECORDS: YOUR ENDLESS PLACES SO ENDLESSLY OBSCENE
Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.
28. SUEDE - SINGLES (2003)
Personnel: Brett Anderson, vocals; Bernard Butler, guitars; Mat Osman, bass; Simon Gilbert, drums; Richard Oakes, guitars; Neil Codling, keyboards; Alex Lee, guitars
Producer: Ed Buller, plus Stephen Street, Steve Osborne, Tore Johansson, Jim Abbiss, John Leckie/ Label: Nude
This is the second and probably last appearance of a compilation on this list. I prefer to stick mainly with album albums, but have made exceptions first for the Until the End of the World soundtrack as a way to look at the bringing together of like-minded music for a common goal, and now for this, the greatest hits of Suede, to discuss the prospect of listening to the best songs of a particular band in one go.
There is also a second motive to this choice. It's the only place you can get "Love the Way You Love," the single that never was, and the title inspiration for my comic book series Love the Way You Love. The first issue of that series is on sale this coming Wednesday. I market in my sleep.
Interestingly, Suede did not call this album Greatest Hits, they called it Singles. The G.H. tag suggests the band can pick and choose; if single 5 off of album 3 didn't crack the top 40, no need to include it. There is also the option of calling this kind of career retrospective Best. This allows further cultivation, and that album cut that the label wouldn't let you release as a 7" is now resurrected and dubbed one of your top tunes.
Making your mandate be that you will put on all of your singles, all 21 regardless of reception or chart position or how the band may feel about it (yes, even "Stay Together" made the cut), is pretty gutsy, because in general, most bands fall off at some point. Most of them need that edit option. Discs of this kind that are blisteringly good from start to finish are rare. The Jesus and Mary Chain pulled it off (also at the fine drinking age of 21), so did the Smiths (at 18, they can't drink, but they can go to war and they can vote).
And now, Suede.
Extra points to them, too, because they included two new tracks, usually the unsightly blight on any overview. Not only did the two new tracks act as a signal to a revitalized passion in Suede's career (albeit a passion that was never to be consummated), but by shuffling up the tracks and running them out of order, they pulled the biggest magic trick of all: if you don't know the group's history, your ears would never spot them.
Let's dig through this track by track:
1. "Beautiful Ones": There was no better choice for the lead song on Singles. Suede was a band who loved its anthems, and all of theirs celebrated the dispossessed. "Beautiful Ones" was the quintessential example, a laundry list of misfits and crazies, "shaved heads, rave heads, on the pill, got too much time to kill, get into bands and gangs." Singer and lyricist Brett Anderson announces, "Here they come," and he ushers in the parade. The fact that the paraders march over a ridiculously glam guitar riff and a monster of a drum beat, and that the chorus drifts on synthesized strings and tambourine, like that moment in a movie where time slows down and you see just how much debauchery is going on--well, that's just a bonus. An absolutely irresistible song.
2. "Animal Nitrate": Though "Beautiful Ones" is about the group experience, the collective of Suede fans, most of their songs are about the individuals, the obsessions. Notably, this is the first Suede single I ever heard. It sets a certain standard. Their 45s seem so often to be about proclaiming something. If "Beautiful Ones" is a later regrouping, a rally cry for the stragglers, then "Animal Nitrate" is the early challenge. "What does it take to turn you on?" Brett demands, as if he's promising to meet it. Let Suede know what it's going to require to get you out of your seat, and they'll play it. Bernard Butler backs it up with one of those famous licks of his, the kind that when he plays it live he has to keep lurching forward as he strikes his strings, and if you're in the front row, you could lose an eye. The whole slab is positively smutty, with Brett's crypto lyrics and its references to drugs, incest, bestiality, and possibly nothing like that at all. Another tambourine in the chorus, too. Two tracks in, and we have trends!
3. "Trash": The yin to the "Beautiful Ones" yang, this was single one off of Coming Up, the day-glo victory of those left holding the bag after Butler's departure, and "Beautiful Ones" was single two. Again, this one is about the personal. As if our loving couple broke away from the party to be together, two outcasts in love. The melody undulates like the "litter on the breeze" Brett sings about, creating a feeling that is ironically airless. Each cymbal smash Simon Gilbert perpetrates sounds like jumping in a puddle with both of your big black boots on, and Richard Oakes proves in the bridge that he can noodle with the best of Butler. I honestly can't find a sense memory of feeling more alive than when I hear this song. It continually replenishes itself, I can replace the things that make me smile from listen to listen, think of the "you" in "you and me" as whoever my crush is at the moment. (Hello, are you out there?) It's also part of a grand tradition of lead singles, the one the boys would chase on every album to follow.
4. "Metal Mickey": The big second single, the one that would prove if they had it in them, if "The Drowners" was a fluke. It's so audacious, even more than a decade on, with Brett in full falsetto and cockney. Gilbert keeps a constant time, and Butler is savage. The lead up is all bang bang bang, but then the bridge comes, and it's like his instrument submits, letting him have his way with it, and then there is the "oh face" that comes with that pause. Kee-rist, there is nothing like a rock-'n'-roll pause. I want one to appear at all the best moments of my life. It's getting good, it's getting good, all right stop--there it is! "She sells heart...!"
5. "So Young": So many tangents come to my mind for this song (fourth single, last off the first album, but track 1 on that album). First, the opening shouts, "She can...start...to walk out...if she wants!"--later the refrain of album track "By the Sea." I had a poster with the cover of this single, one of those big UK subway posters. It was the first thing I purchased when I moved to Portland, the first thing on my wall in my first apartment. It's now on Lance's wall in The Everlasting. If I still have it, I wish I knew where it was; I'd hang it back up. Anyway...the song. This is so much better than the fourth single off any album deserves to be. It's a screamer--as in you scream along with it. Forget the heroin-flecked imagery, this is the feeling of being at the cusp of life, standing on the rooftops, and shouting at the sky about all the things you know you're capable of.
6. "The Wild Ones": Oh, God. How can I not get weepy over "The Wild Ones"? Many a Suede romance was made over this song. Lyrically it's about being in love in a broken world, and how music soothes us and brings us together. There is talk of poverty and dead-end jobs, and can we just last as long as this record plays? As a boy, I want to sing this to every girl, to let them know what I am capable of. "And oh, if you stay/ Well, I'll chase the rainblown fields away." It aches of the tragic, you just feel she's not sticking around. Thus the closing chant, over and over, "oh, if you stay." This song is in eight million different places in The Everlasting (and, yes, Marc, I know this is meant to be about Love the Way You Love). The music swells with the heartbreak, from acoustic guitar all soft and warm, to electric riffs that are melancholy and confused, and then strings as large as those rainblown fields.
7. "Obsessions": The last single off an album proper, one of Brett's catalogues of all that is wrong with a lover and why that is exciting (see also: The Tears, "Imperfection"). The chorus is not the most original of sentiments, "I'm obsessed blah blah I know it's dumb blah blah," but it's the other bits, the lines about the faults of this lover. Is there another band who could deliver "It's the way you don't read Camus or Bret Easton Ellis"? I mean, come on! Big points on the harmonica solo, too. A good harmonica line can't be trifled with.
8. "Filmstar": Freaking single five off of Coming Up, and it's so stompy, so mega, the guitar like a thresher, the filtered vocals, the tambourine. The lyrics repeat like a mantra of sin, and we nearly pass out when the chorus hits, all swirls and Neil Codling hitting, like, a million keys at once.
[Pause: Have you noticed how I have yet to mention a bass line? I don't hear bass lines, for the most part. I don't know why. It's something to do with me. I apologize, Mr. Osman. I know most of the time when Bernard Butler or Richard Oakes are running up and down the neck of their guitar, your fingers are sliding over those fat bass strings and you're actually propping them up. I'm just shallow and I notice those flashy bits. I see the cleavage and not the nice material of the shirt.]
9. "Can't Get Enough": Fitting name, because if "Filmstar" is me getting drunk like a fool, this single is my evil friend who keeps buying me more. Famously, for the sessions of Head Music, Brett Anderson was out of his mind on substances, and this glam racket has that sensation all over it. "I feel real now/ Talking like sugar/ And shaking that stuff." There's a wild Neil Codling sound underneath the verses here, like he's popping bubbles with a hammer. Then there are the shout-along background echoes, the woo-ooohs, the handclaps, the bridge where Oakes dances over the guitar and then back, AH-ONE TWO!, and Gilbert must be shattering sticks all over the place. But the real star of "Can't Get Enough" is that cool little guitar twist Oakes pulls every third line or so, like he's just tweaked it just enough to make sure it's alive. That's what I can't get enough of.
10. "Everything Will Flow": A break in proceedings. Those last two tracks, you've just come off the roughest night in your life, and you need a little spirituality, boy. This is one of my favorite Suede songs, and it's a little underrated in the canon. It has one of Brett's smoothest vocal melodies, a perfect vehicle for the very simple lyrics. For all of his fancypants neo-urban imagery, Brett settles down here to appreciate the ease of life. One thing flows to the next, it'll all come out in the wash--that's the sentiment. Take a pause, step back, "see the pretty people play/ hurrying under the light." There is a wonderful string section on here, the bows gliding over the instruments like water to emphasize that sense of flow. It's a cheer-yourself-up kind of single. Put this on, let it play, hug yourself, and just drift.
11. "Stay Together": It's a shame, actually, that the full version of this isn't here. What was it, eight or nine minutes? This song is infused with paranoia and insanity, and is the sound of a band that has been told they can do anything and are going to prove it. Released during the first and second albums, this was a stand-alone. Released on Valentine's Day, "Stay Together" was a love affair to the music world. Though in a lot of respects it sounds like the band is going mad, I remember it coming out and playing it in my car at full blasts and being astounded. All those layers, those sounds, the bizarre images, and then the horns--the Kick Horns, what a great name--blasting through the murk clear as sunlight. Sadly, not on this edit, but then, maybe hearing the truncated version is good, as it rescues "Stay Together" from the dustbin. Suede would rubbish it later, but broken down to the length of an average single, you can hear that this really was a contender. The frayed edges are missing, only showing in the fade when it sounds like Butler is trying to wrench the strings from his guitar. So ironically titled, too, given what was to come. But out of context, no history, other bands dream of this being their top song, not the one they can later dismiss.
12. "Love the Way You Love": Ah, here it is. How horrible that this never got to be a single. It was to be the second release off the comp, but then Suede split and called it a day. Oakes plays the guitar here like one of those perpetual wave machines for executive desks, first one way, then the next. Brett's lyrics travel in circles, too: an ode to obsession, unrequited love, being stuck in your apartment and wondering where that person is that you ache for so much. "I watch the sky and I watch the rain/ I count the drops dripping down the drain/ Takes 30 seconds to talk about my day." It's the kind of intensity I wanted for the comic, the feeling of being in love with the process of love itself, a romance with romance.
13. "The Drowners": Where it all ended is here followed by where it all began. "Do you believe in love there?" the band inquires, and we can only respond in the affirmative. "Slow down, you're taking me over." For a lot of us, they were taking over, and listening now and thinking back, how different was this to everything else going on in 1992? It's weird and serpentine. Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic kissed onstage to wind people up, but it never felt dangerous. They could probably still sit at the bar and have a beer with the frat dudes who bought their records, but those same guys would hear "The Drowners" and see Brett in his blouse tied up to show his bellybutton, and they'd not be sure if this skinny boy was one of the girls. Talking about love "wrote right down my spine" and "we kiss in his room to a popular tune" (music and love intertwined yet again) and it was like, "You know, I would." And I still just might.
14. "New Generation": Brett at his most spacey, with astral planes and psychic messages. Yet, there is some amazing production here. Butler gives us a couple of plucks before giving it over to the horn section for a pumping pre-chorus, and Simon Gilbert as always steadily pushing it all along. Plus, what an outro, Bernard Butler finally letting loose and having a go, and then a little whistling, all alone in an echo chamber. The way it all comes together, it all starts to make sense, this talk of transcendence and losing myself. Transcendence!
15. "Lazy": The prototype of a summer single. Just bright and fun and about being bright and fun.
16. "She's in Fashion": I remember the pre-release on this was that it was tipped to be the ultimate Suede song, with a title that had been just waiting for them to pick it out of the ether. Another list song, the attributes of a lovely object Brett admires. The song rolls on a chilled Codling synthesizer, but I'd be remiss if I didn't notice the funky wah-wah bass Mat Osman rolls out. (At last!) There's something elegant about the whole thing overall. In fact, this brings to the fore something that keeps creeping up. It's there in "Everything Will Flow," "So Young," and "Can't Get Enough," the breezy elements of "Trash": Suede's best singles match the sound of the instrumentation to the theme of the lyrics, creating an onomatopoeic backing track for whatever Brett Anderson is getting on about. So, elegant music for a song about an elegant lady.
17. "Attitude": What turned out to be the last single, the second new song on Singles, "Attitude" is a reassertion in the way the query of "Animal Nitrate" was an early come-on. This song does it again, it brims with attitude. It's funky, with drums like tap-dancing elephants. There's the falsetto, the counting off, the pauses. After the softness of A New Morning, the band was planting its flag once more. There was life in them yet. It's a shame they didn't pursue it.
18-20. "Electricity/We Are The Pigs/Positivity": Interesting sequencing here, a run of three lead singles (from albums 4, 2, & 5). "Electricity" and "Positivity" are part of that lineage that would run from "Trash" and on into "Refugees" by the Tears, these anthems of lovers alone against the world, and really, "We Are The Pigs" introduces that, only in a much darker way. It's one of the angriest Suede songs, the comeback after "Stay Together" and the entry into their real sophomore effort (and the only song mentioned in this paragraph that was not the first track on its record). It's a menacing song, full of images of a world gone wrong, of suicide and pillaging and executions. There's a paranoia that this could be the end, and yet it's also a shoring up of the resources. We are the pigs, and we're in it together. It fits a little askew between the other two, but that was probably intended. "Electricity" heralds the studio wizardry of "Head Music," and it gives off sparks, another glittery current of skuzzy romance; "Positivity" is the sunshine of A New Morning, a smile at the end of the long dark night. It's actually quite brazen in how UP it is. "Yes, the air is free/ and yes, the world spins for you" is a lot different from "We are the stars of the firing line." Yet it's all of one piece: the power to fight, the strength to win, and the enjoyment of victory.
21. "Saturday Night": Points off for closing with this, only because it was already an album closer in its initial run (it's the last song off of Coming Up, of which it was the third single). What to put here instead? Hmmm...maybe "Stay Together," just to shock the doubting fans. Or how about "So Young," to take it all back to the front, cue up your copy of the self-titled debut? Then again, I guess why mess with perfection. This is a great song to ring everything out on. (And it's no near as bad a cheat as Blur uncreatively opening their Best of with the first two tracks of their most popular album; they also jettisoned five of their up-to-that-point 22 singles.) "Saturday Night" is a perfect slow dance of a song, full of longing and love as warm as that felt on "Positivity." A bit like Depeche Mode's "Black Celebration," actually, and even Suede's own "The Wild Ones," in its desire to take the one you care about out of the doldrums of her day. I've actually listened to this on more actual Saturday nights then I could even try to recall, as my final inhale of good feeling before stepping out for my own night on the town. (My own, yes...sadly alone. Boo-hoo for me. Are you out there?)
And there you have it. I listened to all of Singles again, writing my reaction in real time as each song played. I could listen to this disc over and over. In fact, the true testament to how good of a collection Suede have is that I have left it in its entirety on my iPod, even though I have three of the regular albums on there as well. For other bands, I edit their hits comps to take out songs I have in album context on the iPod drive. Not so for this. I want to be able to cue it up whenever I want and run through all 21.
To tie this all back into the comic book at hand, I hope Love the Way You Love can ultimately have this many greatest hits, can last long enough to cover as many moods, and that plot and dialogue sync up with art to bring the emotion to bear so that they are of one mind: the music goes with the lyrics goes to our hearts and our feet so we can feel and dance. Borrowing the title from Suede is a lot to live up to. If I can even touch the dangling thread at the hem of the band's garment, I'll consider myself lucky.
NOTABLE B-SIDE: The "Attitude" single had three formats, each with two songs, a mixture of new tracks and old material that had been in the vault. When they came out, I wrote on this blog about my love for the song "Heroin," an outtake from the Head Music sessions that was a little too raw even for that bleak record. I considered writing about the futuristic Bond theme that is "Golden Gun" or the cosmic lovesong "Oxygen," but I can't escape the pain of "Heroin." It's so nakedly honest, the sound of a man out of touch with even himself. He knows his heart is breaking, and yet he can't feel it, can't put his hand over it and hold it together. The music is distant and plaintive; as Brett Anderson wrote elsewhere, it's like a song playing through another wall. It comforts as it devastates.
(You can also read an older review of Singles here. Pardon that a lot of my old pictures were wickedly hot-linked and are now rightfully gone.)
Reminder: As always, this post is full of links to Amazon. Click on any one of them when shopping, and Amazon will shave a few pennies off their take to give to me. So, if my reviews make you all hot and bothered and you just have to own one of the things I'm talking about, use my link and contribute to buying me more stuff to review. (Those reading a Live Journal feed will likely have to click to the actual blog page first before heading over to Amazon, though.) Either way, thanks for reading.
Current Mood: exhausted
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich