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The Big Takeover Issue #94
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Art Rock - The Drug Of Dog Man Star

14 October 2019

The term in music- ‘difficult second album’ is an understatement when it comes to Suede and their follow-up to the Mercury Music prize winning self-titled album. By all accounts that debut plus the hype surrounding it, single-handedly kick started the ‘Brit-Pop’ phase of the nineties music scene. The follow up album titled Dog Man Star was a creation born in the eye of a storm. A musical statement which reflected the condition of a band after they are thrown very quickly onto that pedestal of importance where bands like The Smiths and New Order dwell. The first band to reach the front cover of Melody Maker, as they crossed from the alternative rock, breaking the musical barrier into the mainstream.

Their sophomore Dog Man Star is an artistic statement of hunger. With this album the band fought band against all the odds, including that very Brit-Pop movement they detonated, the media who fell out of love with the outfit. And finally, they fought against each other, as the abyss of self-destruction beckoned. The inner-tensions within the band over creative differences, no doubt a result of pressure to always hit that mark of perfection, aided a spiraling descent into drug addiction. This lead to the exit of guitarist, and key contributor Bernard Butler. Most bands would implode, calling it a day, but the faith and drive of the remaining members, including vocalist Bernard Butler, is evident in one of the finest albums released in that era. One, which unlike so many of the day has aged so gracefully, although the miracle it got finished and released is always an overwhelming factor.

Unleashed in October 1994 Dog Man Star was met with little commercial success as the rumors of uncertainty surrounding the bands future exceeded the flow of interest, this in turn had the knock-on effect on sales. With so many other albums of greatness that fall under the banner of ‘Classic’ this is an album which was the faith of its own hype, and that of its predecessor. To put it simply when it was not what the critics expected they hammered it. Unfairly, the attention became focused on the personal aspects of a band in disarray rather than the work of genius which was presented.

The music is dark, the themes sway between  a desolate future to the hope of climbing out of despair to find survival in the light. An opinion has always been that Dog Man Star is in essence a concept album, although never officially confirmed that fact which is left entirely up to the listener’s own interpretation. Although the album flows with a continuity that is seldom seen, starting with the opener “Introducing The Band”. This statement of reaffirmation, heralded a new chapter in Suedes career. The Bowie-Glam sound was all but diminished as on their debut, and instead they produced a more piano-based, soulful offering.

The lead single set-off into a George Orwell theme with “We Are The Pigs”, a track submerged within a sonic guitar wonderment over which Anderson delivers his dark and naked lyrics. The creepy closing of children’s voices singing the chorus does nothing but reaffirm the track’s starkness;
“And as the smack cracks at your window
You wake up with a gun in your mouth.”
The track “Heroine” is a very sublime track with no prizes for guessing the subject, although well crafted it would have fit in effortlessly on their previous work. Whereas in the “New Generation” the autobiographical tale of Suede comes to life; “Take the poison, take the pity” . Though gems abound this album, in the Scott Walker inspired track “The Wild Ones”, one of the most fully recognized songs by the outfit. It manages to transcend the darkness, letting the sunlight breakthrough the smog, bringing all those adolescent thoughts to life;
“There’s a song playing on the radio
Sky high in the airwaves on the morning show
And there’s a lifeline slipping as the record plays”.

On first listen Dog Man Star may become hard work to get through, similar to the Lou Reed conceptual Berlin. A voyage through the inner workings of the fractured minds of all those involved. Afterwards, however, it will become an album that audiences return to time, and time again. If you consider how many bands of that era fell by the wayside, then think about how Suede are still touring, still releasing quality work, such as last year’s acclaimed The Blue Hour. The outfit is still a significant and influential group a quarter of a century later, surviving the nineties and each other.