Suede - Dog Man Star (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Dog Man Star (1994)


The second album from Suede, Dog Man Star, is a masterpiece of 90’s rock, messy, wild, and ambitious to a fault. A deliberate sidestepping away from Britpop (whose public image in itself didn’t actually show the musical range of the movement anyway), the album is massive, the sound of Scott Walker, Bowie, and Broadway cabaret given an eerie, queer rock polish. It was too much perhaps for the original lineup of the band – Butler quit after the death of his father and constant feuding with Brett Anderson, leading to his replacement for Coming Up Richard Oakes. Nevertheless even with Butler not featured on “The Power”, Dog Man Star cements Butler as a great songwriter and guitar player, his soaring, powerful aggression all over this record. It’s a large-scale melodrama with a real, cruel bite.

While Star isn’t a concept album, it’s more tied together than their self-titled, feeling like a three-act drama that’s all crescendos. Brett’s desperate, strained Bowie angst works perfectly throughout, the lyrics all stories of party drugs, hedonism, dystopia, and the young ones who need all of them to get through the day: “All we see and believe is the DJ/and the debts dissolve”. Here though that sense of city youth culture is tinged with more sadness than their debut. The fun has been mostly drained away, like the last half of any kitchen sink drama until the masterful, theatrical closer (complete with careening orchestra) “Still Life” simply becomes that drama. The sound in general has been expanded from the original four players: trumpets accompany the glam run-through “New Generation” while strings accompany a good chunk of the songs here. But Butler and Anderson had in general found a way to expand what Suede could do in scope and size; the opener “Introducing The Band” not only has chilling, surreal lyrics – (“And as the sci-fi lullaby starts to build/See them whipping all the women, cracked governments killed/Oh let the century die to violent hands”) but a monastery-inspired wordless chant and chiming guitar creating a sort of Ballardian mantra. No Britpop band had such huge musical ambitions aside from Blur.

If Dog Man Star is the work of a band flying too close to the sun, then so be it. There were few bands coming close to what Anderson and Butler were doing with “The Wild Ones”, a brilliant piece of pop music that, in its opening moments, reaches for the Sublime. An acoustic guitar strums out a plaintive, yearning melody before Anderson sings, with the finest performance he ever gave: “There’s a song, playing/on the radio/Sky high in the airwaves/on the morning show.” The drums are both aggressive and unobtrusive as Bernard Butler launches into the electric guitars, Anderson begging his lover to stay with him, the need so deep that in the chorus he launches into a falsetto, as if conjuring up what could be, the potential limitless as is his voice, as is their writing partnership. It is as beautiful as pop music can be, and it’s their peak as a band. Even if they did great work after, they never reached that high again.