By Abbi Parcell
There have been albums that have come and gone time and time again as I’ve grown up. One minute I’ll be completely in love with it and the next it’ll be cast off into the discard pile – hidden away in the depths of my cluttered i-Tunes library. But not Dog Man Star.
I can’t quite put my finger on what actually made me sit back and allow myself to fall in love with this album time after time. Maybe it’s that the beautifully seedy Dog Man Star sees Anderson display the full spectrum of emotion; But what really gives Suede’s masterpiece its emotionally raw edge is the tension present between Anderson and Butler during the recording sessions. Everyone remembers the passionate cries of ‘We Are the Pigs’ and the delicate wails of ‘The Wild Ones’, but what about the Bowie influenced ‘Daddy’s Speeding’, exposing Suede at the height of their experimental flare? Driven by minimalistic piano, heavy spacey guitar and held together by the hauntingly beautiful growls of Anderson’s soul-stirring vocals.
But how could you possibly listen to Dog Man Star without mentioning ‘The Asphalt World’? 9 minutes and 25 seconds of glam rock bliss that drags you in, immediately gripping your attention, as you lose yourself within its many layers; as Andersons vocals float effortlessly over the psychedelic twang of Butlers seductive guitar.
Dog Man Star was, without a doubt, one of the most definitive albums of the 1990s – powerfully striding away from the tacky charade of Britpop. Anderson’s vocals exude passion, driving the immensely powerful machine that is Suede. ‘Introducing the Band’ is the kaleidoscope that allows us to peak into the mind of Brett Anderson circa 1994. It’s the start of the bands journey into superstardom and the dark underbelly of fame, sex and drugs. Then, without warning … We are thrown into the violent tremors of ‘We Are the Pigs’. And so, the nightmare officially begins.
Now I want you to lay back, as I always do… close your eyes and envision Brett Anderson frantically flicking his fringe to glam rock anthem ‘Heroine’. There’s something in tone of Anderson’s vocals that evokes real passion, real emotion. When he says that he is “aching” to see his heroine. Now we plummet from the breath-taking highs of this album, to some of the more simplistic, tender moments. Particularly in the first two bars of ‘The Wild Ones’ before the rest of the band kick in; it is hauntingly beautiful – the overall tone of The Wild Ones is something that a lot of bands lack. It’s the chemistry that Suede seem to capture perfectly on Dog Man Star that sets them aside from so many of their contemporaries.
The beautiful whales of ‘The Wild Ones’ seem like a distant memory, when we are dragged into the depths of the eerie mystique of the Bowie inspired ‘Daddy’s Speeding’ which coaxes us into “sweet dreams of gasoline” with its tempest of a bass-line, minimalistic piano, trance-like guitar and of course, the sinister growl of Anderson’s vocals. Poppy ballad ‘The Power’ is as close as we are ever going to get to Britpop on Suede’s anti-Britpop album. It’s as if Anderson’s youthful vigour shines through the dank and desolate landscape that Suede have presented us with on Dog Man Star.
‘This Hollywood Life’ is packed with crunching riff after riff- No wonder Bernard Butler was hailed the Johnny Marr of the 90s. It’s the guitar that gives the song a whole new dimension Dog Man Star is a real emotional rollercoaster, it’s one of the most emotionally raw albums that I have ever heard, which is why I will never tire of it. I mean, how can a band that were literally falling apart at the seams make such an incredible album?
‘The 2 of Us’ is Andersons emotional peak, and he is left fully exposed with his raw, croaky vocals that wander aimlessly over childlike piano. There really is something so fragile, so delicate and so so beautiful about this track. It conveys such a strong sense of innocence which stands out against the dark world depicted on the rest of the record.
But its ‘The Asphalt World’ that is the true masterpiece within the masterpiece. Here we see Anderson at his absolute best but at his most unnerving. The two battle it out right till the very end – The track builds and builds to an epic ending in which we hear the barbed snarls of Anderson’s vocals grate against Butler’s epic guitar parts. The carnage is drawn to a close as Brett returns for one last chorus. We come out through the eye of the storm as Brett snarls at the mic, just one last time before drawing the nightmare to a close.
The gentle, timid, ring of an acoustic guitar on the albums closing track “Still Life” immediately grabs your attention – the intimacy of the track intrigues you as woeful string arrangements creep in intensifying the overall mood of the song. You just know that something great is about to happen. Brett does sound stiff, almost starved by his own emotions at the start. But he begins to loosen up before the explosion of a string ensemble floods your eardrums.