If you’d asked me when I was 17 what the greatest album ever made was, I would have probably said Dog Man Star by Suede. I was a pretty big Suede fan back then, to such an extent that their fan club was the only one I’d ever joined (though I only did this because I knew they gave away exclusive CDs).
I spent months teaching myself how to play guitar like Suede’s first guitarist Bernard Butler, and even went as far as saving money and trading in my guitar in order to buy one just like Butler played in the live video: a cherry red semi-acoustic electric guitar with violin-style F-holes and a whammy bar that seemed to take its spring from a moped.
One of my friends was also a massive fan of the album, and we would spend hours deconstructing it and enthusing about the intro to ‘The Wild Ones’ or the bass playing on ‘New Generation’. I loved the way that Dog Man Star had been crafted as an album: this wasn’t merely a collection of songs - it had a perfect structure that told a story with a beginning, middle and end. It was during this period that Brett Anderson’s vocals were at their peak. In the albums before and after Dog Man Star, Anderson sung in a higher register, but here his voice is deep and controlled. It’s weird to think back how much of my time I spent obsessing about this album, as I probably haven’t played it in over a decade.
Dog Man Star opens with swagger: ‘Introducing the Band’ is slow, deliberate, and arrogant. Listening to it today, I never realised how much it sounds like Spinal Tap’s tribute to booty, ‘Big Bottom’ – that certainly puts a new spin on things. This being said, it’s a slow-builder that sucks you into the album - a perfect introduction.
‘We are the Pigs’ knocks the swagger levels up a couple of notches to produce an awesome rock-stomper. The guitar playing in this one still gives me goose-bumps: the way Butler’s guitar-work hits you with full force in the chorus is quite staggering. This is followed by ‘Heroine’ which is just mind-blowing, and captures the feeling of nocturnal introspection perfectly. The song is sad and atmospheric, but manages to retain a strange sense of vitality.
‘The Wild Ones’ is equally excellent, and showcases the extent of Anderson’s vocal talent. A lot of artists would have rested on the power of the introduction to ‘The Wild Ones’ and based an entire song around it, but not Suede - the song is huge, anthemic and cinematic; and when Anderson sings in choir-boy tones “We’ll be the wild ones / running with the dogs today” as the instruments drop out, it still sends a shiver down my spine.
‘Daddy’s Speeding’ is a incredibly creepy piece of music that builds and builds before spinning out of control. It’s dark and sorrowful, and is filled with feelings of paranoiac anxiety. ‘The Power’ hasn’t aged well and sounds incredibly cheesy. ‘New Generation’ is a stomper of a rock song. Again, it is Butler’s blues-tinged distorted guitar-work that grabs your attention, with about three guitar solos overlaying each other beneath the song’s chorus, and playing off each other in really interesting ways.
‘This Hollywood Life’ is pure rock sleaze – comparisons to David Bowie in this one are unavoidable. ‘The 2 of Us’ is a moody ballad set to a piano. I used to love this song, but today it sounds rather derivative. ‘Black or Blue’ continues along the same moody path as ‘The 2 of Us’ but with the addition of noodling effect-laden guitars and a big cinematic chorus. Again, it doesn’t grab me in the same way that it used to, and can’t help but sound dated.
‘The Asphalt World’ is simply breathtaking, and easily rates as one of Suede’s best songs. The song is packed full of angst and frustration that seems to seep from every instrument. There’s this feeling of passive rage in Anderson’s vocal delivery that doesn’t appear on any other of his recordings – this is a stunning piece of music.
Album-closer ‘Still Life’ was always my favourite song on the album, but today it sounds incredibly naff, reminding me of the soundtrack to some bad film from the 90s that is superficially very good, but on closer consideration is actually incredibly vapid – something like Chasing Amy or Garden State, for example. It’s a song that is massively theatrical, but feels a bit too campy and self-indulgent to take seriously.
This is still a very good album. There are a few tracks that I used to really like that now sound quite tired and dated, but those that don’t still sound awesome.