Suede kick-started the Brit-pop revolution of the 1990s, reviving the romance and drama of glammy guitar rock for an era that got mired in the swirling neo-psychedelia of shoegaze and Madchester. Despite their enormous influence, Suede always seemed to exist on the margins of Brit-pop, never indulging in the laddish behavior that wound up defining the scene by the mid-’90s. Part of this was due to a matter of taste: Suede didn’t favor the brightly colored sounds of the swinging ’60s, they preferred the seedy, arty styles of proto- and post-punk. It proved to be the foundation for an enduring career, yet after the release of their eponymous debut in 1993, Brit-pop soon became defined by boisterous hooks and lager-swilling loud guitars, and the group was ill-equipped to combat the shifting tides due to a rift between their vocalist Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler. Butler left during the recording of 1994′s Dog Man Star, a weighty double-album that emphasized the gothic undertones in Suede’s work. Continuing with guitarist Richard Oakes, Suede swapped gloom for “Trash,” creating a fizzy spin on glam for Coming Up, their biggest hit album of the ’90s. The group followed in that direction for two more albums before splitting, only to reunite a decade later with Bloodsports, an effort that touched upon the highs of Suede and Dog Man Star. The reunited Suede turned into an institution as they found new ways to spin their signature sound on such albums as 2022′s Autofiction.
Through all of Suede’s history, vocalist/lyricist Brett Anderson and bassist Mat Osman remained at the band’s core. The son of a cabdriver, Anderson formed the Smiths-inspired Geoff in 1985 with his schoolmate Osman and drummer Danny Wilder. Anderson was the group’s guitarist; Gareth Perry was the band’s vocalist. Geoff recorded two demos before splitting up in 1986, as Anderson and Osman left to attend university in London. A few years later, the pair formed Suave & Elegant, which lasted only a few months. By the end of 1989, the pair had placed an advertisement in New Musical Express, asking for a “non-muso” guitarist. Bernard Butler responded, and the trio began recording songs, primarily written by Anderson and Butler, with the support of a drum machine. Taking the name Suede after Morrissey’s “Suedehead” single, the trio sent a demo tape, Specially Suede, to compete in Demo Clash, a radio show on GLR run by DJ Gary Crowley. “Wonderful Sometimes” won Demo Clash for five Sundays in a row in 1990, leading to a record contract with the Brighton-based indie label RML. By the time the band signed with RML, Anderson’s girlfriend, Justine Frischmann, had joined as a second guitarist.
Suede placed an advertisement for a drummer, and former Smiths member Mike Joyce responded. Joyce appeared on the group’s debut single for RML, “Be My God”/“Art.” Scheduled to be released on a 12″ in the fall of 1990, the single was scrapped shortly before its release due to a fight between the band and the label. Throughout 1991, the group rehearsed and recorded demos, eventually adding drummer Simon Gilbert. Frischmann left Suede in early 1992 to form Elastica; she was not replaced. A few months later, Suede signed a two-single deal with the indie label Nude Records. Shortly afterward, the band appeared on the cover of Melody Maker, without having released any material. The weekly newspaper declared them the Best New Band in Britain.
“The Drowners,” the band’s first single, appeared shortly after the Melody Maker cover, and it became a moderate hit, debuting at number 49 to strong reviews and word of mouth. “Metal Mickey,” released in the fall, became their breakthrough hit, reaching number 17 on the U.K. charts after a suggestive, controversial performance on Top of the Pops. Anderson soon became notorious for causing controversy, and his infamous comment that he was “a bisexual man who never had a homosexual experience” was indicative of how the group both courted controversy and a sexually ambiguous, alienated audience.
A short tour before the spring release of their eponymous debut album was very successful, setting the stage for “Animal Nitrate” debuting at number seven. Shortly afterward, Suede entered the charts at number one, registering the biggest initial sales of a debut since Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome. By the summer, Suede had become the most popular band in Britain — winning the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for Best Album that fall — and they attempted to make headway into the United States. Their progress was halted when Butler’s father died that fall, forcing the cancellation of their second tour; they had already begun to be upstaged by their opening act, the Cranberries, who received the support from MTV that Suede lacked. Shortly afterward, the band was forced to change its name to the London Suede in America, due to a lawsuit from an obscure lounge singer performing under the name Suede.
Tensions had begun to develop between Bernard Butler and the rest of the band during the group’s 1993 tours, and they peaked when they reentered the studio to record a new single in late 1993. Butler conceived the song “Stay Together” as a sweeping epic partially in tribute to his father, and while it was a success upon its February 1994 release, debuting at number three, the recording was not easy. As they were working on Suede’s second album, Anderson and Butler began to fight frequently, with the guitarist claiming in a rare interview that the singer worked too slowly and that his partner was too concerned with rock stardom, often at the expense of the music. Butler left the band toward the end of the sessions for the second album, and the group finished the record with Anderson playing guitar. Bernard’s departure launched a flurry of speculation about Suede’s future, and Dog Man Star didn’t answer any of those questions. The grandiose, ambitious, and heavily orchestrated Dog Man Star was greeted with enthusiastic reviews but muted commercial response. As Suede were working on their second album, their remarkable commercial success was eclipsed by that of Blur and Oasis, whose lighter, more accessible music brought both groups blockbuster success in the wake of Suede.
While Dog Man Star sold nearly as well as Suede, the impression in the press was that the group was rapidly falling apart, and the band didn’t help matters when Butler was replaced by Richard Oakes, a 17-year-old amateur guitarist, in September. Suede embarked on a long, grueling international tour in late 1994 and the spring of 1995, before disappearing to work on their third album. In the interim, Butler had a Top Ten single with vocalist David McAlmont, and Gilbert, the only gay member of Suede, was attacked in a hate crime in the fall. At a fan club gig in January of 1996, Suede debuted several new songs, as well as their new keyboardist, Neil Codling, Gilbert’s cousin. The group returned as a five-piece in September of 1996 with Coming Up. A lighter, more band-oriented affair than either of Suede’s two previous albums, Coming Up was an unexpected hit, entering the charts at number one and generating a remarkable string of five Top Ten hits — “Trash,” “Beautiful Ones,” “Saturday Night,” “Lazy,” and “Filmstar.” Coming Up was a hit throughout Europe, Canada, and Asia, but it wasn’t released in the U.S. until the spring of 1997.
Coming Up never did win an audience in America, partially because it appeared nearly a year after its initial release and partially because Suede only supported it with a three-city tour. Nevertheless, the record was their most successful release to date, setting expectations high for the follow-up. Upon their return to the studio in the fall of 1998, Suede decided to ditch their longtime producer, Ed Buller, choosing to work with Steve Osborne, who had previously produced New Order and Happy Mondays. The resulting album, Head Music, was released in May of 1999; an American release followed in June. Featuring heavy use of analog synthesizers and drum machines, Head Music divided opinion among hardcore Suede fans, who preferred the band’s more guitar-centric approach. However, the production changes were largely aesthetic, and the band still delivered plenty of anthemic glitter rock glitz with songs like “Electricity,” “Can’t Get Enough,” and “She’s in Fashion.”
Around 2001, Suede found themselves at a career crossroads. Keyboardist Codling, who had contributed greatly to the writing on Head Music, left the band and was replaced by Strangelove’s Alex Lee. Adding to the sense of change, the band’s label, Nude Records, went bankrupt and Suede were left at the mercy of their parent label, Sony. Also around this time, Anderson, having struggled with drug addiction (he later admitted to being a crack addict), finally decided to get clean. Despite these upheavals, by 2003 Suede had finished their fifth studio album, the Stephen Street-produced A New Morning. Unfortunately, public interest in Suede, not to mention the Brit-pop sound, had faded by the early 2000s and the album sold poorly. Several concerts followed in support of the band’s 2003 compilation, Singles, but by October, Suede had announced they would not be releasing any new music in the foreseeable future. They played their final concert at the London Astoria on December 13, 2003, before going on indefinite hiatus. Following the break, Anderson did the previously unthinkable and reunited with original Suede guitarist Bernard Butler under the name the Tears. The duo released a well-received 2005 album, Here Come the Tears. Also during the hiatus, Anderson recorded four low-key solo albums with 2007′s Brett Anderson, 2008′s Wilderness, 2009′s Slow Attack, and 2011′s Black Rainbows.
Finally, in 2010, with Codling back on board, Suede reunited for several live shows beginning with a performance at the Teenage Cancer Trust show at Royal Albert Hall on March 24. This led to more shows, including a tour promoting the compilation album The Best of Suede. By 2011, the band had begun performing new songs live, and in 2012, Suede announced they were in the studio working on a new album with producer Ed Buller, who had produced the band’s first three albums. In 2013, Suede released their sixth studio album and first album of all-original material since 2003, Bloodsports. Suede debuted several of the Bloodsports tracks online, including “Barriers” and “It Starts and Ends with You.” The release featured a more mature perspective from Anderson, and a sound that harked back to the grand guitar pop of Suede’s early work. After playing anniversary concerts celebrating Dog Man Star in 2014, Suede returned to the studio to make their seventh studio album. In September 2015, they announced the impending release of Night Thoughts. A dark, majestic album that recalled Dog Man Star, Night Thoughts saw release in late January 2016, debuting at six on the U.K. charts. Later that year, the band released a super deluxe 20th anniversary edition of Coming Up. The band spent 2017 in the studio writing and recording their eighth LP. The record — titled The Blue Hour — marked the first effort collaboration with producer Alan Moulder (the Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails) and arrived in September 2018. The Blue Hour debuted at five in the U.K., their best chart position since Head Music in 1999. Also In 2018, the band was the subject of a documentary called Suede: The Insatiable Ones, which was directed by Mike Christie.
Suede returned in September 2022 with Autofiction, an edgy, post-punk-inspired album produced by Ed Buller. Autofiction debuted at number two on the U.K. charts and the group supported it with a co-headlining tour of North America with the Manic Street Preachers. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine