Suede - Coming Up (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Coming Up (1996)


Q: So what exactly are bands meant to do when the guitarist leaves, only a vocal cult likes your new, weird album, and you seem down and out?

A: Get another player, start it all up again, and make some chartstorming hits.

Coming Up was the initiation of the new era of Suede, with a replacement for Bernard Butler in lead guitarist Richard Oakes and additional member Neil Codling. Suede 2.0 was even glossier, hookier, louder than the previous Suede (who lest we forget did have Brett Anderson ecstatically swinging a mic against his ass), and had a remarkable sense of pop as standard by which all should be judged. The songs here are catchy, swaggering, and large: nothing is small-scale. There's no deeply solemn art rock a la “Daddy's Speeding” on the previous record, no creepy chanting. Coming Up is the soundtrack of British hedonism circa 1996: the yuppies, council estate teens, druggies, and celebrities all united beyond class and social strata under the goal of having a good time.

And what a great soundtrack. Coming Up especially in its more euphoric singles, as Codling's keyboards surge on “Filmstar” for example, reaches a pinnacle of bubblegum glam. Everything is heightened, churned into a single candy-coated album mix by Ed Buller. Anderson's voice is higher than it's ever been on the gleefully anthemic “Trash” for example, finding liftoff in the final chorus syllable: “We're the litter on the breeze/We're the lovers on the streets /Just trash, me and you/It's in everything we dooooooo”. Subtlety was rarely in the band's vocabulary anyway, but Coming Up laughs at the whole concept of going small. Strings, large backbeats, and attacking guitar compete for space on pseudo-Bondian song “She”, and the result is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. It's the rock equivalent of an excellent blockbuster that all but begs for you to love it.

Still at its best Coming Up has a balance of joy and melancholia just as 70's glam secretly did. (Is there a more poignant rock song about sexual confusion than “Drive In Saturday”?) This is still at its core music by outsiders who happen to be allowing a few more people into the fold. “By The Sea” is a haunting piano ballad where the couple look forward to their suicide, as Brett Anderson warmly sings “He can walk out anytime across the sand, into the sea, into the brine.” Not quite cocktail party stuff.

But my favorite song here is one of their masterpieces, “The Chemistry Between Us” - Richard Oakes as a guitar player was never better, his luxurious and melodic riffs finding a bittersweet (heh) ecstasy on the dance floor. “Between Us” in sound is somewhere between Fifties retro-glam and Judy Garland, the La-la-la vocals floating through thin air – when Brett sings “We are young and not tired of it”, it's utterly triumphant and utterly pitiful just as the best pop ballads can be. The narrator wonders openly about whether they and their lover are too old for this shit, maybe “just capital flash/in a stupid love”. “Class A, Class B/Is that the only chemistry between us?” Anderson croons, the song spiralling towards a come-down, Oakes' guitar surrendering to fluttering strings and blissful surrender.

The closer “Saturday Night” is the hangover to the faded and fucked up highlights of the album, as the narrator promises “Whatever makes her happy, whatever makes it alright” to their depressed significant other. Like the song with the same title by The Blue Nile, Saturday night holds totemic meaning here, and all these British working class kids can do is put all of their hope into that time, with its grand promise of a good time. The album finishes on that sad note, a perfect pop album cut short by the intrusion of reality.

Spawning several chart hits in England, Coming Up was a commercial peak for Suede as a band and their last truly great record for awhile. They had several hits with the next two albums, but this would be their best work until their (excellent) reunion. It's an exuberant, playful pop/rock album, delighted in the young and vibrant world it lives in. There's nothing else I can ask of pop music.