1999's 'Head Music' should have been the album that saw Suede cement their position as one of the biggest bands in Britain. Instead, the record marked the start of both their critical and commercial decline, which they have only reversed in the last two years.
Expectation was huge for 'Head Music' on the back of 'Coming Up', which had spawned five top 10 singles. It duly entered the charts at number one but it became apparent this wasn’t the all-conquering victory lap of a record it should have been. While immediate reviews were very positive, with Melody Maker hailing it as their album of the year, later reviews were far more critical and the album came to be seen as the band’s biggest folly. The truth is, as is often the case with these things, is somewhere in the middle.
The record was described as a ‘stream of consciousness’ and the band at their most relaxed, but some would argue the album saw Suede at their most complacent. Brett Anderson has admitted that drugs were becoming a pervasive issue for the band, negatively influencing their judgement and creating real difficulties during the record process. Even so, there are many moments on this record that demonstrate Suede are one of Britain’s greatest bands ever.
Working with dance music producer Steve Osborne, the band wanted to incorporate more electronic sounds and make their songs more ‘groove orientated’. Opener 'Electricity' is a thrilling start to the album, sounding like a mash-up between Jimi Hendrix and T-Rex. A simple pop song, it deservedly marked Suede’s sixth top 10 single in a row.
STREAM: Suede - She's In Fashion
The other singles are fine songs as well, although they didn’t enjoy the same commercial success. 'Can’t Get Enough' is Suede at the most visceral, with Anderson shouting strangely addictive lyrics over Richard Oakes’s punkish guitar and Neil Codling's gurgling synths. 'She’s In Fashion' was Suede’s big radio hit, a highly stylised summery song which a gorgeous melody, while 'Everything Will Flow' is arguably Suede’s last great single, a beautiful slower-paced epic which the band had become masters of, as also illustrated by the lovely 'Down'.
Unfortunately, 'Head Music' also contained some of Suede’s worst ever tracks, including the title track and 'Elephant Man'. When Anderson said 'Savoir Faire' was the best song Suede ever released at the time, you knew something was clearly amiss. Listening again to the song, although its structure is genuinely innovative, I can’t help wince at some of its lyrics and I won’t quote the feeble opening line, which has been cited often as the example of the waning of Anderson’s writing. The album does recover somewhat towards the end, with the brilliant 'Indian Strings' and anthemic 'He’s Gone'.
What makes the record all the more frustrating when listening to this reissue is so many good songs were left off as b-sides ('Let Go', 'Leaving', 'God’s Gift' to name a few). This was a consistent characteristic of Suede, but the fantastic quality of the songs they put on their albums had previously obscured this.
'Head Music' is probably their most divisive record, reflecting its inconsistency. Credit to Suede for bravely experimenting with new sounds given the easy temptation to make 'Coming Up Part II'. Nevertheless, given its lack of focus and editing, you can’t avoid the conclusion that the record is a missed opportunity.
Suede have reissued all their albums, adding b-sides and unseen footage - 'Suede', 'Dog Man Star' (highly recommended), 'Coming Up', and 'A New Morning'.