Sandwiched between the hysteric glamour of their debut and the breezy listening of Coming Up is the dark core of Suede. Dog Man Star arrived as the unwelcomed antithesis of the London Fields brandishing barrow boys squealing about their nights of oikish debauchery. It was a telescope on a bitter world, one threaded with blood, lust and chemicals, a nocturnal journey through the backstreets and tower blocks. Its lyrics bursting at the seams with tales of longing, waiting, regretting, watching the world turn without you, feelings of powerlessness and dread as Brett Anderson spent a long time plotting in his decaying Notting Hill hovel like a dandy Miss Havisham for the results to be critically lauded but commercially almost forgotten.
The strain of Bernard Butler’s departure left the weight of this album’s live legacy on the slender shoulders of the then 17 year old Richard Oakes, it was a painful birth. Back then a nervous Richard Oakes played one of his first gigs with the band at Dublin’s SFX in 1995, coltishly aping Butler’s hip swaying moves and guitar strangling style. Now, seventeen years later their opaque masterwork is unravelled in front of those who inhabited this emotional terrain at the time and hopefully those who discovered its pleasures later.
Arriving onstage to the triumphant strings of Still Life the lights are again dimmed for the arrival of the post-apocalyptic, Clockwork Orange dementia of Introducing The Band, who’s mesmerising metallic flash has not dimmed in the intervening years. Cutting a disturbingly dashing figure for a maturing man, Anderson prowls around the stage doing his best Ferry-meets-schoolmarm motions as he entices the crowd to roll back the years and indulge in some unselfconscious singing-a-long to the boisterous We Are The Pigs.
As we’re possibly not singing loud enough he then decides to invade the crowd and sing half of The Wild Ones in the pit as various perfumed ladies swoon and grown men shed silent tears into their pints in the darkness. The Wild Ones typifies the decaying romance that runs throughout the album like a twisted vein. As much as there is the bleakness of the creepy Ballard echoing Daddy’s Speeding, there’s the fantastical explosion of lust in New Generation, its clanging intro inspiring many a crowd member to gamely pogo like it’s 1995. This is the pop that Suede were best at, the songs of aching, dizzying desire that pump straight to the heart, as hands are flung in the air and lyrics bellowed back, a face changing grin unfurls on Anderson’s face, bounces back to Simon Gilbert and spreads through the rest of the band. They’re home.
From then on the gothic blues of the album stream through the room like thick smoke, Two Of Us setting the dense mood, the highlight being Brett’s rare moment of vulnerability as he tackles the awkward musical-style falsetto of Black And Blue to rousing cheers. But this is a mere palette cleanser to the album’s bleak centre piece Asphalt World, a broken down black and white tragedy of a song of desperation and depravity. Familiar Suede tropes of viewing the world from the backseat of a car, the city in all its damaged glory, the pain and degradation of relationships and as Brett’s voice cracks during the breathless lines ‘Is it me or her?’ the pervading feeling emerges that trips through the past might not be all that fun. The track was also Bernard Butler’s calling card, his stand alone work of glory and as Anderson exits the stage for the burning, ferocious solo, Richard Oakes takes it to its soaring destiny, stamping his style all over it with an effortless flourish.
As the strains of Still Life blast through the air, it may be an ode to inertia and wishful thinking but it’s the ray of light twinkling through a cracked window pane, it’s the oddly optimistic ending to the malignant illness of Dog Man Star and a look towards all tomorrow’s parties.
Originally published on state.ie