Singles (2003) ****
I had some harsh words for Suede's debut back when I ran the old Creative Noise back in the '90s, and while the intervening years have softened my attitude, it's still not a terribly good record. So I never bothered with the followup Dog Man Star or the succeeding three albums they cut after guitarist Bernard Butler jumped ship. As you can see from the rating above, Suede did turn out to be a most excellent band after all - perhaps their albums weren't consistent, but cherry-picking the gems from the pits makes for a supremely entertaining album. I only wish it were more pruned: at 21 tracks there's still some dross, and chopping six or seven songs off the cutting room floor would improve this compilation quite measurably. It also might have been better to run the tracks chronologically instead of mixing it up on random play from their five studio albums, but in the end that's a bit of a quibble. Suede display little artistic variety, reveling in the basic formula of glam-trash, with Bernard Butler spikily slicing crunchy Mick Ronson riffs and singer Brett Anderson moaning melodramatically like a Morrissey-damaged Bowie. It's highly derivative and lightweight but a thrilling formula when they nail it down right, mostly on their early singles like "Animal Nitrate," and "The Drowners." However, I find that certain post-Butler tracks such as "Trash," (as anthemic as they wannabe), "Can't Get Enough," (walks like a woman but feels like a stone-aged man), and especially "Obsessions," (reads Bret Easton Ellis, sigh, but at least it's a book) are my favorites; in fact, their third album, Coming Up, was their most commercially successful. The world that Anderson creates is self-consciously one-dimensional, inhabited by goth trendy fashion models who snort coke at after-hours clubs and gender-bender decadents with New Wave haircuts and Soho attitude. Nevertheless, they brought a little sex and sassy swagger (as opposed to macho swagger) back to hard rock, which might explain why they never broke America the way that comic-macho lunkheads Oasis did. They never scored an ironic breakout hit the way Blur did with "Song 2," either, and thus are as underrated this side of the pond as they were overrated back in old Blimey. Anyway, to wrap matters up, this is a tasty overview of one of the '90s finest Brit-Pop bands, and more than just a trip down nostalgia lane for the Blair (Blur?) administration.