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POP MUSIC : Seduced by Suede : With shimmering guitars and an alluring androgyny, the London upstarts have taken England by storm. Can they capture America like Ziggy Stardust?

July 18, 1993|LORRAINE ALI | Lorraine Ali writes about pop music for Calendar

"So if you're writing about love, you don't need to write about the person it's geared toward . . . it's the experience. It's not hetero or homo, but rather a flow of human emotions. Besides, Brett could be singing from the point of view of a girl lusting after him, which is something all singers like to write about."

Anderson and Osman grew up near each other in Haywards Heath, a commuter belt town about 45 miles south of London. "It's a pretty faceless place," Osman offered good-naturedly. "It's a ghost town with nothing to do unless you're over 70. People go there to retire. There's brilliant secondhand shops there though 'cause everyone's always dying."

The working-class, conservative town has no movie theater, let alone a music scene. Anderson, who grew up in the only pocket of poverty in town, got his early musical education from the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.

"My dad usually listened to classical, so the Beatles was the only pop record in the house. I know it inside and out, probably even backwards," the singer said, speaking much more easily than when talking about his own music.

After moving to London in the late '80s to form a band, Osman and Anderson met guitarist Bernard Butler through an advertisement they put in NME, one of the British rock weeklies that now regularly puts them on the cover. They point to it as a key moment in the history of Suede.

"Up until that point, Brett and I were more concerned with what to call ourselves than actually starting anything," recalled Osman. "We used to spend hours sitting in our parents' bedrooms toying around with the idea of being in a band. But Bernard was so good that it was really embarrassing. From that point on we took our music seriously."

The three found drummer Simon Gilbert through another ad and began gigging around London in 1989.

"We spent a lot of time as a completely unfashionable, disliked little indie band," Osman recalled. "In the States, a lot of people don't realize that. It must seem like we dropped out of the sky. It's annoying, they assume you're constructed or fabricated. We spent at least two years opening up for other bands that got good press and (we) were considered laughingstocks. We were the bridesmaids and never the bride."

But Osman wasn't looking for sympathy. He believes those years toughened the band. "If nothing else," he said with a disarming smile, "it gave us ambition fueled by revenge."

Suede was signed in early 1992 by Nude Records, a small independent label that subsequently hooked up with Sony/Columbia in Britain and the United States. By the time the debut album was released in spring, the group was already a critics' darling in England.

"Suede are only the most audacious, androgynous, mysterious, sexy, ironic, absurd, perverse, glamorous, hilarious, honest, cocky, melodramatic and mesmerizing band you're ever likely to fall in love with," raved the English rock weekly Melody Maker in an April, 1992, review of the band, though Suede had only released one single at the time.

U.S. critics are also generally enthralled. Rolling Stone gave the album four stars, with reviewer David Fricke writing, "Suede is everything that great British pop stars used to be--compelling, confounding, infuriating."

The group's musical influences are evenly divided between noisy punk and melodic pop.

"Brett and Simon listened to real abrasive, annoy-your-parents type stuff, while Bernard and I got into the Jam and the Specials," said Osman, referring to some more pop-oriented, new-wave groups.

In its most affecting moments, Suede's music recalls the grand emotion of the Bowie/Roxy Music/ T. Rex style of rock 'n' roll. But Anderson is sensitive about suggestions that the group's sound is simply a rehash of '70s glam-rock.

"I have no interest in glam," he said sharply. "It was a tedious movement in rock music. The only good thing that came out of it was 'Ziggy Stardust,' and the only reason was that Bowie had brilliant songs. Maybe because we both have aggressive and romantic qualities, people align us with that period in music."

Aside from Bowie, each member cites the Smiths as a huge influence. "The biggest thing I got from the Smiths was that people like me could make brilliant records, not just the kind of people who seem to have been born on television," Osman said.

Suede is currently writing songs for a new album and preparing for an extensive U.S. tour at the end of summer. Meanwhile, they plan to focus on the music. Anderson said the group is constantly rehearsing or working on new material.

If the quartet is half as moody as its music, all that time spent together must make for a turbulent ride.

"You should be sitting in the rehearsal room with us," Anderson said, seeming almost amused himself as he considers the intensity of the group's musical sessions.

"There's black clouds everywhere. That's how we make music. We don't take anything lightly really. We take it quite seriously. We're not into getting (drunk) and downing beers in the studio.

"I feel incredibly romantic about life," Anderson said, summing up. "I feel very cinematic about things. I wake up in the morning and feel as though everything's part of a film. Sometimes that's the only way to get through bad situations. I suppose it's escapist, but why not? I think that's what people like about Suede."

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