Hype can be a beautiful thing. A peculiar beauty, to be sure, but perversely attractive in a variety of ways.
Hype is especially awe-inspiring in the music business. An overactive promotions department, assisted by a fawning, wide-eyed media, can turn even the most pedestrian of poseurs into front-page news with startling speed and tenacity.
You see it all the time. Especially in England. The U.K.'s notoriously impressionable music scribes rarely go more than a couple of deadlines without goosing yet another band of high-cheekboned fashion slaves. Just check the latest cover of New Music Express (NME) or Melody Maker. You'll get an eyeful of sullen, pretty-boy Brits staring straight back at you, daring you to be the first on your block to discover their trumped-up talents. All of which leads to high casualty counts once reality wanders onstage. Bands like the Associates, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Dexy's Midnight Runners and God knows how many other "Next Big Things" have all succeeded in falling on their collective "arses" once the breathless British media cut bait.
The resulting fall from grace can be ugly. All manner and fashion of an act's shortcomings wind up dutifully documented by the same pack of writers responsible for the initial hype. It's a time-worn gimmick: Sell lots of papers by building something up, then sell even more by tearing it down.
Sometimes, the build-up is justified. Even the U.K.'s goofball press occasionally stumbles on an honest winner; a band that seemingly comes out of nowhere with good songs, exciting stagecraft and a hint of staying power.
A band, for instance, like Suede.
At first blush, Suede is everything you'd expect from the overseas hype mill: four cutesy English lads, all familiar if not overly skilled at their instruments, led by an arresting front man resplendent in postured, postadolescent angst. Suede's history (relatively clean slate, together only two years, no prior albums) fits the media's freshman honors requirements, as does the band's vague bisexual flair, which makes for much-coveted controversy. Indeed, lead singer Brett Anderson once caused quite a stir by describing himself as a "bisexual man who's never had a homosexual experience."
Suede was born in 1986 when Anderson and bassist Mat Osman put together an acoustic outfit in their hometown of Hayward's Heath, described by Anderson as a "traffic stop between London and Brighton." A resettlement in London three years ago was soon followed by the recruitment of guitarist Bernard Butler, with drummer Simon Gilbert signing on later.
Suede originally played out at some of London's lesser clubs, convincing neither the public nor the press of future hoopla. Osman remembers that London's music papers at the time were "only interested in raves and shoegazing bands," and had little time for Suede's more song-conscious efforts. Having met with massive indifference, Suede decided to hole up and wait for the city's musical climate to change. It didn't take long. English music fans, primed by the fickle press, have an attention span of amoebic proportions. Suede eventually reemerged, testing the waters again in late 1991. On the strength of an increasingly documented succession of shows, Suede found itself, within a matter of months, being touted as the Best New Band of 1992 by the influential music weekly Melody Maker.
Not bad considering Suede had yet to release any recorded material. No single, no album--no nothin'.
The band became an instant hit. Buzzing hordes of fans were suddenly taken with Suede's songs and, especially, Suede's campy lead singer. By all accounts, Anderson, fashionably foppish with long strands of hair covering half his face, would ingratiate his newfound audience with an attitude that oozed of working-class glitter--glam. He spoke and sang with a heavy London accent. He moved with a sensual strut. He projected a constant sense of melodrama. In effect, Anderson became an amalgam of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Anthony Newley and Bryan Ferry all packaged for postmodern consumption.
And the public bought it. The band's first three singles--The Drowners," "Metal Mickey" and the considerably cool "Animal Nitrate"--all made an instant impact on the U.K. charts. (Animal Nitrate," for instance, just recently debuted at number seven.) Suede was subsequently bestowed with numerous awards from newspaper and magazine end-of-the-year readers' polls. Not since the dawn of the Smiths had an upstart British band caused such a bona fide ruckus with the release of just a few singles.
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Comparisons to the Smiths continue now that Suede's eagerly anticipated album is finally out. Indeed, the imaginatively titled Suede, like the Smiths' self-titled breakout, is relatively seamless and confident for a first effort. The aforementioned trio of hit singles is included on the CD, along with a number of stunning, slower songs, most notably "She's Not Dead," which comes off like a European cousin to "Jane Says."
Suede is a good debut album. But it's hardly the second coming of the Smiths. The Anderson-Butler songwriting tandem is not yet to the invention level of Morrissey-Marr, though some of Suede's songs are blessed with Smithsonic roller-coaster melodies. But if Suede has a stain, it's with the band's up-tempo tunes: "Moving" and "Animal Lover" sound like every peppy, tail-chasing "Rock of the 80s" dross long forgotten in the 90s. Such songs come nowhere near reaching the emotional depths of the CD's slower, more thoughtful material. Until some sort of conversion formula is figured--or until Anderson gives up and becomes a strict balladeer--Suede looks to be slightly afield of its still-inflating press kit.
So forget the hype. Especially now that stateside music critics are lining up to fling hosannas at the band. Forget that SPIN describes Suede as "flushed, feverish and high-strung . . . simply divine." Ignore Rolling Stone's drool that Suede's debut album is of "formidable grace and authority."
Just remember the tortured rsums of England's other imported messiahs: Flesh for Lulu, Haircut 100, Pop Will Eat Itself, Spandau Ballet, Altered Images. . . .