Pop: The Big Noise: Suede - Head Music Nude

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The Independent Culture
BROADER IN musical conception than their previous albums, Head Music reflects two basic changes in Suede's working methods since Coming Up. The most obvious is the change of producer, Ed Buller being replaced here by Steve Osborne, Paul Oakenfold's partner in Perfecto, who naturally brings a more groove-oriented approach to the band's sound, which is slicker and smoother than before, and better reflects the band's "chemical generation" outlook.

It used to be the case that Brett Anderson sometimes seemed to be singing about another subculture entirely when he romanticised drug-taking, as if jealously observing the bright young things en route to their raves from his shadowy vantage point on the gloomy side of the street; certainly, Suede records were rarely heard at raves, where a more physical, less mental, response was the order of the day.

This, perhaps, is the underlying theme of Head Music - that populist, body-oriented music need not be entirely free of intelligence, that both body and mind can take nourishment from pop.

The other major change in the band is the rise of the keyboardist Neil Codling, who plays a much more defining role in the band's sound and compositions than before, offering a better equilibrium between keyboard textures and the guitars that used to dominate their sound. It's inconceivable, for instance, that Suede could have pulled off such a svelte slice of Human League-style electro-pop as "Hi-Fi" on an earlier album, or built up as dense a sound as on "Elephant Man", without recourse to string arrangements. The new balance is best displayed on the Garbage-esque "Savoir Faire", where the hormonal buzz of wah-wah guitar and pounding motorik groove combine compellingly in the manner of Bowie's Station to Station, which you suspect is right up Suede's street.

As for the lyrics, Suede's songs still deal with glamour, sex, drugs and despair in fairly equal quantities, but now there's a variability of touch that was lacking before. The evocations of teen sex, the snatched moments of bliss in suburban wastelands, and the cast of pill-popping glamour-girls and beautifully wasted boys are all present and politically incorrect, of course, but it's hard to imagine the younger, more serious Suede stooping to the Viz-comic level of the title-track's "Give me head! Give me head! Give me head music instead!"

It's not an obvious route for them to take, admittedly, but one that brings a welcome touch of truly street-level humanity to Suede's more fancifully romantic notions of life on "the street".