Singles (Nude Records/Columbia Records '03) Rating: A-
Formed around the charismatic combination of singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler (replaced after two albums by 17-year old Richard Oakes), Suede are best remembered today for kickstarting what came to be called "Britpop," though they were soon overshadowed in the mid-'90s by bands such as Oasis and Blur (whose singer Damon Albarn also stole Anderson's girlfriend Justine Frischmann, whose band Elastica also briefly eclipsed Suede, adding insult to injury). Declared the "Best New Band in Britain" by Melody Maker before even releasing their first single, Suede had a lot to live up to, and though perhaps they fell short of their original hype (being forced to change their name to the London Suede in the U.S. for legal reasons didn't help matters in terms of finding stateside success, though that was unlikely anyway given their "Britishness"), this singles compilation proves that they released their fair share of fine singles, especially on their first three albums (Suede, Dog Man Star, and Coming Up). This 21-track, 79-minute compilation isn't perfect by any means, as Suede weren't the most diverse band around so it starts to seem really long after awhile, plus it not being chronologically sequenced also hurts it in my opinion. Had it been chronologically sequenced, I could've treated the later singles - where they seemed to lose their rock grit, darkly sexual lyrics (often homoerotic in nature on the early albums), and seemed painfully vanilla - as bonus tracks or skipped them entirely rather than having to program around them. The two new songs recorded for this collection are weak, too, and they certainly don't make me question Suede's decision to call it a day after their last two lackluster albums (Head Music, A New Morning). I guess they missed Butler (an excellent guitarist and songwriter) in the long run, even though "Beautiful Ones," "Trash" (presented here in an alternate version), and "Lazy" (all from Coming Up) are three of my favorite songs here. Indeed, most of the highlights are the early singles, such as "The Drowners," "Metal Mikey," "Animal Nitrate," and "So Young" (from Suede), as well as "The Wild Ones," "New Generation," and "We Are The Pigs" (from Dog Man Star). As for what Suede actually sounded like, The Smiths and David Bowie are obvious touchstones, and Anderson's distinctly British mewling, with many a falsetto along the way, is to many an acquired taste. Quite frankly, when Anderson's vocal hooks and Butler/Oakes' riffs don't stick the band can be quite annoying, but at their best the band's deliciously tuneful and decadent glam pop, encompassing both semi-heavy rockers and lush, epic-striving ballads, could be quite enjoyable. Singles collects most of their essential songs and is their most essential album as a result, though fans of this set are also advised to check out Sci-Fi Lullabies, a very good 2-cd compilation consisting of b-sides from the singles released from their first three albums.

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