Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Suede - Dog Man Star

Dog Man Star

Released 1994 on Nude
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 09/10/2008ce

1. Introducing the Band (2:38)
2. We are the Pigs (4:19; previously known as EAG)
3. Heroine (3:22)
4. The Wild Ones (4:50)
5. Daddy's Speeding (5:21)
6. The Power (4:31)
7. New Generation (4:37; previously known as Losing Myself)
8. This Hollywood Life (3:50; previouly known as Trashy)
9. The 2 of Us (5:45)
10. Black or Blue (3:48)
11. The Asphalt World (9:25)
12. Still Life (5:24)

Brett Anderson - Singing, some instruments
Bernard Butler - Guitars & Things
Simon Gilbert - Drums
Mat Osman - Electric Bass

All Songs Anderson/Butler
Produced by Ed Buller

NOTE - This is one that I reviewed on Unsung before, mildly controversially…I think the idea was to expose a record only celebrated by a minority of hardcore Suede’ fans. Going through Unsung there are plenty of albums from well known acts and records that did sell at the time. But I did remove that review with the idea of reworking it, then sadly my thesis went **** up, so I kind of forgot. I’ve rediscovered the LP of late and note how far they’ve slipped off the radar and how Brett Anderson’s post-Suede work has met the same fate as the last Suede-LP. No one cares, it seems, and I bet if they reformed they’d probably have quite a poor turn out – unless they got that Wonderstuff/Jesus Jones-type 90’s nostalgia going? Dog Man Star remains an interesting record and quite odd and too rich for the mainstream at the time, I’m arguing it’s lost and warrants rediscovery – I’m not arguing it’s as obscure as some In-Kraut-stuff or something…and something from the 1990s and the UK is interesting too…well, we’ll see….

GLAM-RACKET. Suede had a lot of hype, which wound many up as much as their androgynous image – boys looking like girls was a Glam-Racket according to Mark E Smith and Steve Coogan-as-Paul Calf targeted them (“Diamond Dogs?...Bag of shite…”). In many ways Calf was predicting Oasis…and ironically Suede led to Britpop, which wasn’t a good thing, but hardly their fault…

THE BIG TIME. I saw Suede (supported by The Auteurs) at the Windsor Old Trout and it was one of those great gigs, despite the fact they played some of their early crap stuff like “Animal Lover” and “Movin’ The debut was slightly flawed, leaving early crap stuff on (like “Animal Lover” and “Movin”) as great material loitered on b-sides. But over the next few singles and a combination of ambition and chemicals they began to truly develop into the band to match the hype. Songs like “The Big Time” and the Ballardesque “High Rising” pointed to their direction; one of their biggest hits “Stay Together” went for a 9-minite epic where Bernard Butler channelled his grief over his father’s death into a Spector-meets-Smiths-fantasy (& Brett Anderson channelled Bowie & drugs…). The flipsides included the bleak AIDS/smack ballad “The Living Dead” and the sublime “My Dark Star” – which sounds like a psychedelic-Magazine (…or maybe Anderson sounds like Peter Murphy from Bauhaus?).

LOVE AND POISON. As detailed in the warts-and-all official biography ‘Love and Poison’ by David Barnett (Andre Deutsch), Suede were completely fucked up – the romance of a certain kind of lifestyle and music had combined and would end with crack and heroin addiction and the pissing away of a career.

MANSION. Anderson embraced the darkness here, holed up in a Victorian-mansion with a religious cult and probably making his Berlin after they failed to crack America. Butler had become estranged from the band, though off his face on coke and dope it was hard to buy his censure of the others for being off their faces on drugs. The career-thing was getting in the way and he decided he didn’t want to play old songs like “The Drowners” anymore, as well as deciding he disliked Anderson’s vocals, that Anderson was a paedophile (mentioned many times in ‘Love and Poison’ and something to do with a joke made by Anderson when on crystal meth in LA), and how he wanted to direct the band. Butler also began to dislike the songs whose lyrics appeared to romance junkies…Weirdly the composition would work out OK, Butler posting music to Anderson, holed up in the mansion, who would work on the material over the next few days and post back…Anderson & co had recently hooked up with Derek Jarman for a performance and seemed to take things very seriously – now in a gothic mansion Anderson was embracing the dark stuff and Dog Man Star was the result…

DOG MAN STAR. Anderson explains in L&P, “I scrambled my brains on acid, coke and E and out came Dog Man Star…I deliberately isolated myself…It was like, “I’m going up to Highgate and writing a fucking album…So I spent a lot of time on my own just watching Performance every day of my life. I was starting to go a little bit nuts. I was kind of having visions about songs. Lots of the songs were about visions, songs like “We are the Pigs.” I was actually having visions of Armageddon and riots in the streets and inventing insane things, living in this surreal world. & out came Kenneth Anger, William Blake, and Alestair Crowley – an influence of books on sex and witchcraft was emphasised. Anderson continues in L&P, “I was kind of aware that everything was getting slightly strange. I was quite into all these people that had visions and were slightly off their nuts, people like Lewis Carroll. I was quite into that whole idea of becoming the recording artist as lunatic. I was quite into that extremity, but I was definitely living it. It was good fun!”

MISERY. Dog Man Star, whose working titles had been Misery and Sci-Fi Lullabies (later used for a compilation of b-sides), was a strange one as it hadn’t been finished when Bernard Butler walked out of the band in a big-ass fashion. Butler had pretty much taken over the arrangements/production and wanted to oust producer Ed Buller from the record. Butler had become alienated from the band and in final performances would play riffs at odds with each song, as if to undermine the rest of the band…flicking V’s at band members also added to the tension. Like Spinal Tap, a “Him or Me”-moment occurred and Butler collected his guitars (rumoured to have been dumped out on the street by the rest of the band – who deny that) and apart from a contractual contribution to “Black or Blue” (recorded in a separate studio), that was the end of Butler and Suede.

SGT PEPPER. By now Suede-insiders were describing Dog Man Star as their Sgt Pepper, session musicians added to it and Scott Walker-associate/brother of Bamber Brian Gascoigne added strings (Tessa Niles appears, as well as brass, strings and children’s choir!). One of the sticking points was Butler’s intended 18-minute “The Asphalt World” – which was trimmed by 50% - though Butler claims he was going to edit it. He seemed to have gone prog and would appear in a BBC programme on the Floyd around this time…Butler had been writing lots of additional minor-pieces and was absorbed in complex arrangements – so it would be interesting if any of the material before it was tweaked would ever surface (the extended “Asphalt World”, the original end for “The Wild Ones”, which was less poppy etc). Dog Man Star isn’t the album it should have been, but is no less interesting for that…

THE HOLY BIBLE. Dog Man Star is dense, potent stuff like Berlin and Closer – though Anderson was enamoured with Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom – and it had a companion in the form of Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible. Dark shit from British acts isn’t that common, Dog Man Star seemed to influence Radiohead’s second and third albums, and I think was probably influenced a bit by Jehovhakill (I know associate band Strangelove were fans of Jehovahkill). The overloaded guitars etc on “Daddy’s Speeding” aren’t that far from the freak-out part of “Upwards…/Know” – maybe not even far from the fractal Thrones & Dominions of Dylan Carlson or Sylvian’s drones on Blemish…

SULK. Dog Man Star was eventually released to rave reviews, getting to #3 in the album chart, but falling quickly thereafter as Blur and Oasis eclipsed them commercially…in the years since it’s fallen off the radar, the debut LP making all the lists etc. I guess like Sulk by Associates it’s one of those very odd albums to puncture the Top 10?

OTT. Dog Man Star is quite a ridiculous OTT album, even a 1990’s Scott Walker noted the bombast when interviewing around Tilt. Maybe the Children’s Choir was supposed to be like the kids on Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring…though it made me think of The Mission’s Children! & a co-worker just said when ‘We are the Pigs’, “We are the Dead” – which pointed to certain obviousness. & Dog as in Diamond, Man as in The Man Who Sold the World, and Star as in the Prettiest Star? Bowie had even asked them to re-record “Lady Grinning Soul” or “Time” for a record that never came out…& Anderson's lexicon was a bit trying (animals, dogs, pigs...the whole damn farm) at times. A shame he never penned a song called "Valium Urban Clearaway"...though 1996's "Picnic in the Motorway" is close...

HEROINE. Also, it was irritating when Anderson sang about doves and ecstasy while denying in a free-flexi with one of the weeklies that “Heroine” was about Heroin. He does claim not to have taken up smack at that point; though I think it likely as he did everything else….apparently alcohol was a primary influence too! Some of the lyrics are appalling when read, but make sense against the immense soundtrack that backs them...

ENO. “Introducing the Band”, later remodelled by Brian Eno, was the odd opener – a bizarre electronic chant with some added guitar as Anderson reels off drug-inflected nonsense. He certainly had the Bowie-thing apparent on Station to Station here; though playing with fire can’t be a good thing, and like Bowie, Anderson became clean and lost whatever he had. I guess you have to square great art with a fucked up life? A looped/backwards vocal contrasts against dark lyrics like “Get him shacked up, bloodied up, and sucking on a gun” – which was odd to hear in a song about the time Suede-fan Kurt Cobain took his own life. A reality, however fucked up, was being reflected….

RAY OF LIGHT. “We are the Pigs” was the bizarre comeback single that threw people – a dark anthem with a very strange promo (burning crosses, masks, riot squads, subways...sort of A Clockwork Orange-meets-V-for-Vendetta) and sleeve that was probably too rich for many who had liked their earlier, catchier songs. “Heroine” consolidates the debut material, perfecting the 3-minute odd Suede song and focusing on Marilyn Monroe and Frida Kahlo. “The Wild Ones” should probably have been a “Fake Plastic Trees” or “Wonderwall”, but was lost – I think the repetition (“Oh, if you stay”) at the end is quite charming and a ray of light on a dark record.

HOLLYWOOD BABYLON. “Daddy’s Speeding” is a bizarre song where Anderson imagines he’s James Dean’s son and the car crash which killed Dean – a case of too much Ballard and romancing the dark stuff? “The Power” is quite poppy, finished with session musicians working to Butler’s composition and at the end offering a glimpse of the shallow pop of next-phase Suede. The centre of the album is again quite poppy – another anthem in the form of flop-single “New Generation” (which the record label wanted as the first single) and “This Hollywood Life,” where Butler’s guitars are almost grungy and Anderson sounds like he’s thoroughly ingested Anger’s Hollywood Babylon…

FLOYD. The final four tracks are where the album goes really dark – maybe the reason why this is a fan’s favourite – odd that the critics’ raves seem forgotten now, a few years later Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins would rave over this record, which already seemed forgotten. “The 2 of Us” is a piano-led ballad where Butler injects suitable pomp and a glam-solo; while “Black or Blue” is a shorter piece that sounds like Morrissey if produced by Eno in the 70s. This leads naturally onto the epic “The Asphalt World” which was about a dysfunctional relationship or two Anderson had with the ladies at the time. It gets away with a Velvets-cliché (playing on “How does it feel…”) and has a post-Syd/pre-Dark Side-Floyd wig-out…what does the 18-minute version sound like? Finally there is the gorgeous “Still Life,” which is truly lovely – the strings at the end are quite ridiculous and possibly as Spector a problem as that of Let It Be by The Beatles. Taking in the Eno-remix and b-sides like “Killing of a Flash Boy” (“We Care a Lot” meets “We are the Dead”) and “Whipsnade” (where Butler fuses dub and glam rock), creatively Suede were in a very interesting place.

THE LAST PARTY. But the split changed all that – Butler went into default Spector-lite setting for his subsequent work and Suede made the 1990’s equivalent of Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger with Coming Up (a good record if in a shallow mood, I guess). Crack and smack would unhinge Suede, whose personnel would shift as they attempted to record albums a few times – their swansong A New Morning offering a straight-Anderson to a world that didn’t seem to want them anymore. Butler, who had since worked with Sparks, Neneh Cherry, David McAlmont, The Verve (briefly between the 2nd and 3rd LPs until his ego collided with Richard Ashcroft’s), Edwyn Collins, and as a solo-act, had apparently offered to compose songs for Suede towards the end of their career (see The Last Party by John Harris).

DOG MAN STAR. Strangely, Anderson & Butler reunited following Suede’s hiatus – The Tears seemed a bit obvious, though like the Go-Betweens when they returned, it might have taken a few records to really make a classic equal to the past. The Tears’ flopped and that’s all over – Butler now working with Rough Trade’s Duffy and the former Texas-singer Sharleen Spiteri (sp?). Anderson has gone on to make two solo records, both quite dark and the latest Wilderness the closest thing he’s done to Dog Man Star. The problem is he’s mellowed and isn’t fucked up – which makes for OK records and a great life, which I’m sure he prefers over great records and a fucked up life? His solo tour was fairly unattended, like The House of Love’s return a few years ago, and the latest LP has had average to dismal reviews (like Bowie in the 1990s, Anderson is trying and who knows…he might do it again!). But it’s notable Anderson is playing lots of material from Dog Man Star now – “The 2 of Us,” “The Wild Ones,” “Still Life,”, “The Asphalt World” – so maybe he can get back to that place and keep his mind in-tact?

THE 1990’s. Dog Man Star may have been made by a band in the mainstream, but it’s very, very strange and kind of lost. I guess if they hadn’t carried on with new members and vanished it might be regarded more than it is now? Certainly a record that deserves the Unsung-treatment and to be heard by those beyond the faithful fans…& one of the last times British music was challenging in the 1990s – completely at odds with the Britpop that would follow; certainly one of the reasons why the 1990s ended in 1994 in the UK…

Introducing the Band:

We are the Pigs:


The Wild Ones:

Daddy's Speeding:

The Power:

New Generation:

This Hollywood Life:

The 2 of Us:

The Asphalt World:

Still Life:

Killing of a Flash Boy:

Reviews Index