Were I to list my favorite bands, nearly all of them would be bands that no longer exist, or if they do, have stopped releasing albums. Joy Division, The Smiths, Pulp, Suede– all no more. Even my favorite local band, The Aislers Set, seems to have stopped recording and touring. Were I pressed to list favorite bands still in existence I’d say Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand, and Bright Eyes but none of those bands hold sway over me quite like those in the first list. While I cannot necessarily say they are hands down my favorite band of all time, no band better represents my coming-of-age years than Suede.
Suede really did usher in a new generation of music, and were arguably the original Brit Pop band. Their success heralded a radical stylistic shift in the sound of British rock, one that had last shifted with the advent of The Stone Roses, and paved the way for bands such as Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and Elastica. Suede was Britain’s answer to American grunge rock– a throwback to the glam days of David Bowie and Roxy Music tempered by the ‘it’s okay to be an outsider’ mentality of The Smiths– and made an ideal rallying point for misfits and dreamers the world over.
Suede’s best songs, taken together, form an unending narrative of of detached lovers, sexual experimentation, drug use, and life outside the lines of traditional British society, and “New Generation” is no exception.
“New Generation” is from the Dog Man Star album, a massive, larger-than-life masterpiece of epic rock and roll, and quite possibly the single greatest rock album ever recorded, at least by my reckoning. It is definitely in my top five all time, and is probably my favorite of all. It soars to heights I’ve never heard another album attain.
Though this entry is really about one song, I would be remiss if I did not say a bit about the significance of the album. Dog Man Star is a record already heavily laced with melancholy themes and sounds, and the story surrounding its release only serves to amplify that despair. After a Mercury Prize winning debut album, and a brilliant EP, Suede had fans and critics alike eager for their second full-length album. Almost at the same time as the record was reported to have been completed, Bernard Butler, the guitarist and half of the song-writing team, left the band. Dog Man Star would seemingly be the last we would ever hear from Suede.
Things grew worse– it became unclear if the album would even be released– legal matters were likely to keep it shelved indefinitely. There was never a lower point in the life of a Suede fan. (Meanwhile, bands like Blur and Oasis, formally relegated to the back burner, took the implosion of Suede as an opportunity to rise to the forefront of the Brit Pop movement, and cash in on the next wave of British musical invaders to conquer the American airwaves.) Eventually, the album was released, and it was a huge success, albeit possibly the last effort by so promising a band.
I wake up every day, to find her back again
Breeding disease on her hands and knees
While the styles turn and the books still burn
It’s there in the platinum spires
It’s there in the telephone wires
And we spread it around to the techno sound
And like a new generation rise
To complete the story of Suede, much like in the song, we fans woke up one morning to find them back again. They didn’t break up. Instead they launched a crazy guitarist search and wound up with some teenaged Bernard Butler look-alike. I will not lie– skepticism ran rampant in the circles of Suede fandom, and when it was announced that Suede was to have a new single in stores, it was big news. The song was to be called “Trash.” Would it be just that? I remember standing at the cash register of the local record shop with the single in my hand, and my heart full of anticipation. I came home and fearfully popped “Trash” into my CD player. While totally different than Butler-era Suede, it was utterly fantastic in its own right, and it instantly became my anthem for that summer.
Sadly, post-Butler Suede is remembered best today not for their brief resurgence but for their subsequent failure, and even though I know in hindsight how it’s going to end (watch out for that iceberg, Suede!), it’s still nice to reminisce about the moment in time when, to a new generation of youth, Suede had in seemingly miraculous fashion survived what seemed at the time to have been a cataclysmic loss. Perhaps there really was hope for the rest of us.