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Suede: Many Happy Returns To 'Dog Man Star'

Thursday, 30 October 2014 Written by Graeme Marsh

While Oasis and Blur publicly battled it out at the height of Britpop in 1995, the foundation stones became harder to make out as the music was overtaken by the cultural flood.

‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Parklife’ had been released a year earlier and continue to sit pretty at the top of the nostalgia tree 20 years later. But another release from the same year – ‘Dog Man Star’ by London’s Suede – has quietly crept back into the conversation of late, moving from footnote to taste touchstone for a new generation of bands.

Suede’s self-titled debut had topped the UK album chart in 1993 and walked away with the Mercury Prize, powered by the bratty glam of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler’s angular, Johnny Marr-indebted guitars. ‘Dog Man Star’ was a different beast; difficult, ambitious and cut through with the rapidly deteriorating relationship between Anderson and Butler. From difficult beginnings, it has emerged as the pinnacle of their career.

The Guardian's Alexis Petridis has written of Butler’s guitars being thrown into the street during recording, and of the guitarist signing off with a curt “You’re a fucking cunt” to Anderson. The fractious state of affairs between the two was at the centre of a perfect storm of hype, press provocations, drug use and personal tragedy, with the death of Butler’s father greatly affecting the mercurial guitarist during a US tour in support of their debut.

“It was madness that I was ever allowed to go on tour with Suede the week after my dad died, 'cos I didn't know what the fuck I was doing,” he told John Mulvey of the NME in 1998. “I thought if I didn't go I'd sit at home and think about it, but I was a nutcase for going, and they were nutcases for letting me go and then turning around and complaining that I wasn't having a great time."

Issues continued to arise during recording sessions for ‘Dog Man Star’ at Master Rock Studios in Kilburn, London. Producer Ed Buller was not Butler’s preferred choice, having worked with the band on the non-album single Stay Together earlier in 1994. Relationships would deteriorate further, and quickly, with Butler’s exit from Suede arriving before the record’s completion. As it turned out, Stay Together would be his final single with the band.

Anderson called Butler’s bluff following an ultimatum on Buller’s participation. "I regret it terribly, but that’s just the way it is,” he told the NME earlier this year. “You can’t go back and fix these things, they’re unfixable. They’re just there. Your mistakes haunt you and they hang over you and there’s nothing you can do about them. All you can do is lie there at four o’clock in the morning sometimes thinking ‘what if I’d done that differently?’”

Despite its troubled genesis and the competing influences at its core - with Butler pushing his expansive vision and Anderson leading a further charge towards pop ubiquity - ‘Dog Man Star’ spawned three strong singles in We Are The Pigs, The Wild Ones and New Generation, as well as monumental moments in The Asphalt World, Black Or Blue, The Power and The 2 Of Us, a track that includes some gorgeous piano from Butler. “I’ll always remember watching Bernard play this song’s beautiful piano part from the control room and feeling this strange mixture of pride and trepidation,” Anderson told the NME.

Butler subsequently set about a solo career, very briefly played with the Verve and released a celebrated single, Yes, with David McAlmont. But it was as a producer and collaborator that he would excel, also refusing to change his tune on that element of ‘Dog Man Star’. “I still say to this day that the producer made a terrible, shoddy job of it,” he told Petridis. In 2004, meanwhile, the unthinkable happened and the guitarist reunited with Anderson, releasing an excellent album together as the Tears.

Despite reaching #3 on the UK album chart, ‘Dog Man Star’ was not the follow up commercial success many expected it to be. In fact, 1996’s hit single-focused ‘Coming Up’ achieved greater notoriety in its time. ‘Dog Man Star’, as its reissue treatment recently confirmed, has outlasted its follow up, though. Many happy returns.

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