Amidst the hype signalled by David Bowie’s surprise return, many could be forgiven for thinking that nothing else of note is happening on the musical horizon. Indeed, it is a particularly cruel coincidence that Bowie, of all people, should opt to release his comeback single within 24 hours of Suede, also re-emerging after a decade’s silence, unveiling the first taster from their forthcoming album. That said, it must also be noted that Where Are We Now? is perhaps the stronger offering of the 2 but still the decidedly understated reaction to the reformation of arguably the finest band of their generation remains a sadness. Jarring sharply with the euphoric welcome afforded to mid-90s rivals Blur, culminating with a flagship performance at the closing ceremony of last year’s London Olympics, Suede have a right to feel aggrieved at the lack of love elicited by their revival. After all, great as they were, Blur never made a record as seismically, preposterously brilliant as Dog Man Star.
Nevertheless, the band haven’t always helped themselves. Bowing out with the deeply underwhelming A New Morning saw few mourn Suede’s passing, a tarnished legacy which maybe motivated the once insouciantly ingenious partnership of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler to reunite as The Tears in 2004. Propelled by a promising lead-off single in Refugees, the accompanying Here Come The Tears was by no means a disaster nor even especially disappointing but little appeared left of the old magic. Anderson’s endless gauche similes, although a departure from the doomed provincial romanticism and such lyrical touch-stones as lonely crowds, circle lines and nuclear skies, which would become almost self-parody in Suede’s later efforts, were particularly uninspiring. Consequently, weight was given to the suggestion that his creative well had run sadly dry; that the frenzied urgency of his youth had receded with age. A succession of so-so solo records ensued, scarcely whetting the appetite for a reunion yet now that it has materialised, it should be deemed cause for celebration. Certainly, there is no contemporary band anything like Suede, with ‘Britpop’s’ lack of influence outside of its the more laddish, coarser and infinitely crapper side an ongoing disappointment (though I thought The Boyfriends were alright…), as British music and the sad, dwindling NME could certainly do with the advent of an Anderson or a Jarvis Cocker. And most importantly of course, Barriers is a fine comeback and offers hope that the forthcoming Bloodsports lp will be far from their jaded previous record.
Despite the partially justified claims that the Suede’s best material was produced by its earlier line-up, their period of greatest commercial success followed Butler’s departure and the introduction of then-17 year-old replacement Richard Oakes and Neil Codling. Naturally, chart success is practically never a barometer of artistic merit but post-Butler Suede produced some exceptional material and as a 10 year-old, I was convinced that Coming Up was clearly the greatest record ever made. True, the follow-up, 1999’s Head Music was a more a patchy affair (though I adored it at the time) but the band’s productivity saw that gems still emerged discarded as b-sides. Indeed, the timing of Suede’s return is also notable as it comes framed by the demise of HMV, a retailer which throughout my childhood was synonymous with the Suede flipside.
Although personally, the chain failed to serve any useful purpose some time ago as its diminishing music section stopped catering for my increasingly esoteric tastes, the announcement of its slide into administration still provoked a certain wistful nostalgic sorrow. You see, in the mid-1990s, the announcement of new Suede single was an event and HMV was the venue. Well, I say ‘announcement’ yet really in those pre-internet days, releases were never really announced in my world and instead, I was left to learn of them through flyers plastered across abandoned shops and pubs as my dad drove into Birmingham city centre. The sight of that trademark font would be cause for great excitement as my dad was exuberantly demanded to slow down so that I could catch the release date and plan my route into town after school to pick up the forthcoming single from Mansun, Blur, Pulp, Elastica, The Charlatans or ideally, Suede (I wish I’d had the foresight to be able to include Hefner and Belle & Sebastian in that list but they were much later discoveries).
Back then, a single was effectively an EP, quite literally in Mansun’s case, with exclusive tracks backing each format, which invariably included at least 2 CDs (looking back perhaps the advent of a third disc was a tacit admission of dwindling interest outside of the devotees), each generally priced at the pocket money-friendly fee of £1.99 (Oasis’ were labelled at a rather more prohibitive £3.99). Lean spells between new releases would be filled diligently collecting back catalogues, although Suede, initially somewhat frustratingly, made ownership of those many of those singles obsolete with the wonderful double album compilation Sci Fi Lullabies (which despite being effectively a duplicate tracklist was still feverishly snapped-up on the Monday of issue. From HMV, naturally) but later-career highlights such as God’s Gift or Leaving ensured the single format’s prominence lingered on a little longer.
Lamentably, this practice is effectively dead. Physical singles don’t sell in these digital days, the b-sides culture of the bands of my youth no longer thrives and I’ve most likely not bought a CD single since Attitude, Suede’s limp 2003 farewell. As such, HMV pretty much lost its importance to me that day in a way that Suede never will and I for one welcome their return and look eagerly await the March release of Bloodsports. Shame I’ll have to buy it from Tesco.