Coming Up

Sharps & Flats is a daily music review in Salon Magazine


Charles Taylor
April 18, 1997 11:00PM (UTC)

in "Heroes," David Bowie imagined a pair of young lovers kissing atop the Berlin Wall. In "Trash," the first single and the opening track on Suede's third album, "Coming Up," Brett Anderson gives us a less risky proposition, but one that, to him, is no less heroic or glamorous. In "Trash," the lovers' clinch comes on the scrap heap of pop culture as
they try to hold onto each other amid shifting styles and fads. "We're trash, you and me/We're the litter on the breeze/We're the lovers on the street," Anderson sings in the chorus, and you just know that old, discarded copies of New Musical Express are whipping around in that breeze, along with cigarette butts and greasy chips wrappers. That title "Trash" is both a description of how society sees the young ("Maybe, maybe it's the
clothes we wear/The tasteless bracelets and the dye in our hair") and a celebration of the frayed glamour of outsider status.

On "Coming Up," Suede (I'll be damned if I call them the London Suede because of some American band no one knows or cares about) attempt to navigate the fine line between the discontents of pop culture -- the illusions it holds of rebellion and escape that really function as temporary outlets to fold people back into the established order -- and
its pleasures. Suede come on dressed to kill, a treatise on capitalist social theory in one hand, a copy of The Face in other and Ronald Firbank tucked in their back pocket for good measure.

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Brett Anderson sings most of the album in a high, nasal voice (reminiscent of Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" period) that straddles compassion and contempt. When he sings, "Tonight we'll go drinking, we'll do silly things/and never let the winter in," you're aware that he's chosen to put the chill in his voice. But he can't help being touched by the smile of the girl he takes on a weekend night of dancing and drinking in "Saturday Night," or being troubled by the trendy young people in "Beautiful Ones" ("Cracked up, stacked up, 22 ... Shaved heads, rave heads ... got too much time to kill/get into bands and gangs/Oh, here
they come, the beautiful ones"). In the lovely "The Chemistry Between Us," he even aligns himself with them: "We are young and not tired of it/Oh we are young and easily lead/Oh, by all the kids getting out of our heads."

At times, "Coming Up" sounds like a glam version of Godard's "Weekend," which had the alternate title "A Film Found on the Scrap Heap," except that Suede's despair is nowhere near as apocalyptic.
"Coming Up" takes place in an England where the effects of Tory rule are too firmly entrenched ("No stimulation in this privatisation") for anyone to work up much in the spirit of resistance.

Almost in defiance of the American market, nearly all the bands in the current Britpop movement have embraced the provincialism of English
pop as it was practiced by the Small Faces and the Kinks. Leaving behind the doomy feel of their last album, "Dog Man Star" (which marked the departure of guitarist-co-songwriter Bernard Butler; Richard Oakes has taken over on guitar and as Anderson's songwriting partner), Suede and producer Ed Buller have married the observation of middle-class English life that marked the songwriting of those bands to the glittery, decadent feel of early '70s Bowie (and lesser glam practitioners). "Coming Up" is a lush, gorgeous-sounding record with a pleasing sense of purposefully overwrought melodramatic sweep, courtesy of Craig Armstrong's string arrangements. It's easy to be put off by the affectedness of it all, but the pop craft is so confident it's hard to resist. And it's not easy to dismiss the conflict Suede plays out over the course of the album. "Coming Up" is the sound of a
band too preoccupied with the morning after to let themselves be the life of the party, but too taken with the vitality and attractiveness of the bodies on the dance floor to be the death of it.

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Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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