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Issue: February 1995

eccentric, but compelling

dog man star (nude/Columbia)
The London Suede

Suede walks the thin line between what's eccentric and interesting and what's weird and annoying. The band stays on the good side of that divider for most of its latest release, dog man star.

There are some fine songs here, if you forgive singer Brett Anderson's obsession with David Bowie and tolerate the rest of the band's unnatural fixation on echo effects and tremolo guitar. Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler are capable of writing offbeat but engaging pop melodies when they feel like it. When they don't feel like it, they write either bizarre, dissonant instrumentals or overwrought Message (with a capital M ) ballads.

"We Are the Pigs" combines Anderson's Spiders from Mars-ish vocals with heavy crunch licks from Butler, with brass and synth accents. Butler chips in with a nice, looping solo.

"The Power" is a danceable pop number with a cheery guitar motif under its catchy chorus and evocative distortion effects over its coda. Chiming guitars and half-wavering vocals battle for the foreground throughout "New Generation," a cut so Bowie-like it could have been a Hunky Dory outtake.

Yes kiddies, there is an uncredited bonus track here, and it proves to be one of the disc's better tunes. After a :38 silence, listeners are treated to a breezy 4-minute pop number with a punchy guitar solo.

Dog man star features some clever lyrical turns as well. "Black or Blue," a song about a guy who falls for a girl visiting London but in tax exile, features this couplet: "She left some flowers, he smoked for hours."

"Heroine" is probably the album's most lyrically intriguing song. When Anderson sings "I'm aching to see my heroine, I've been dying for hours and hours," it's impossible to tell if this is meant as a standard romantic plaint, a statement on drug addiction or perhaps a parallel between both.

This album's missteps are mostly failed experiments. "The Asphalt World," for instance, is intended as a showcase for an extended, feedback-soaked, echo-enhanced guitar solo but drags interminably before finally clocking out at a hefty 9:20.

Anderson does more thesping than singing on "The 2 of Us" and "Still Life," affecting a stilted, overly dramatic delivery which borders on the ridiculous. Both songs cross that border as a symphony orchestra and a church organ swell in the background during their latter verses.

Luckily, such moments are rare here. A few subpar tracks aside, dog man star is compelling listening.

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