Suede launch Britpop with 'Animal Nitrate' [March 7, 1993]
Plus: Madonna, Jamiroquai, and The Auteurs
Greetings, Time Travellers! 👋
It’s March 7, 1993 again
📰 Janet Reno becomes America’s first female Attorney General, and goes on to become the longest-serving AG in modern history.
📽️ Hoo-haa! UK cinemas get to see Al Pacino chewing the scenery in Scent Of A Woman.
📺 On telly, MTV broadcasts the first full episode of Beavis and Butt-Head, with Madonna, Nine Inch Nails and Sir Mix-A-Lot getting the commentary treatment.
🎶 ‘No Limit’ by 2 Unlimited is still Number One, so instead let’s talk about…
This week’s Number 7: ‘Animal Nitrate’—Suede
Here’s a common story among men my age. In my early 20s, I threw out almost everything I had acquired during my teenage years, starting with my big pile of Melody Maker and NME back issues.
“Ha!”, I said, “when will I ever want to re-read the 1995 Melody Maker with Menswear on the cover where the band split up right in the middle of their interview?”
And the answer was: sometime in my mid-40s, and I would pay €15 on eBay for a second-hand copy.
It’s strange to hold a mid-90s Melody Maker in your hands again. It was such a weird magazine. Physically weird—both MM and NME were printed on A3 paper, making them much bigger than a modern tabloid. The paper itself was absolute dogshit quality, and the ink would smudge while you read them, hence the nickname, “the inkies”.
Both magazines baffled me as a kid. The newsagent kept them down flat at the bottom of the rack, in between The Sun and Racing Post, so the cover star would stare up at me as I reached for my comics. All of the featured bands sounded made up.
I don’t remember the first time I bought an issue. Someone on the cover caught my eye—probably a grunge band—and I thought, “What the hell. Let’s see if this is as good as 2000 A.D. or Amstrad Action.”
Before I knew where I was, I had started buying both magazines every week, obsessively reading them from cover to cover.
This wasn’t about the music. We’re talking pre-Spotify days, so I couldn’t just play the tracks mentioned in the magazines, so I was reading reviews of records that I had never heard and would probably never hear.
No, this was about the story. The inkies reported the music scene in soap opera style, with heroes and villains, and endless plot twists. Everything was hyperbole, and very little of it was related to the music (favourable press coverage was usually a sign that the band had given the journalist some of their drugs…or something else.)
Most bands hated this and hated the journalists, which is fair. But I absolutely loved it and desperately wished I could be one of them.
Now you're taking it time after time
Melody Maker started as jazz magazine in 1926, and did quite well until the rock’n’roll era. They refused to cover this teen fad, which left an opening for a new magazine: the New Musical Express.
After that, Maker remained in NME’s shadow, although they did manage some notable scoops, including the 1972 interview in which David Bowie said, “I’m gay and always have been.”
Melody Maker’s biggest cultural moment happened in early 1984. The magazine was in the middle of a disastrous pivot into the mainstream pop market, with bands like Duran Duran and Wham! on the cover of millions of unsold issues.
Editor Michael Oldfield (no relation) decided to take a break, so he booked a two-week holiday and handed the reins to Allan Jones. Jones had one instruction: do what you like, as long as you put Kajagoogoo on the cover.
Allan Jones had been hired as a teen in 1974 after writing a letter that said, “Melody Maker needs a bullet up its arse. I’m the gun – pull the trigger." Now, it was 10 years later, and he was writing puff pieces about The Thompson Twins.
Finally, here was his chance to pull the trigger. Jones cancelled the Kajagoogoo shoot and instead gave the front page to an up-and-coming indie band from Manchester.
Oldfield was furious—until he saw the sales figures. Eager Smiths fans had grabbed every copy they could find, and now they were desperate for more.
Jones and Melody Maker had achieved every music journalist’s dream: find an obscure band, put them on the cover, watch them go supernova, and brag about how you spotted them first.
So in your broken home
Melody Maker often tried to repeat this trick, but never with the same success.
(In 1996, I paid good money to read a three-page feature about how Northern Uproar were going to be the next Oasis. I would still like a refund.)
Maybe the biggest, most outrageous attempt to have another Smiths moment happened in 1992. Journalist Steve Sutherland convinced the editor (Allan Jones himself, who was promoted shortly after his Smiths cover) to throw everything behind a band that had yet to release a record—not even a single.
In some ways, this was an act of desperation. British indie had been in the doldrums since The Stone Roses, and American rock was running the show. Melody Maker was lucky enough to have Everett True on the team, who got them exclusives with Kurt Cobain, but they desperately needed local bands that they could interview, study, champion, mould, and—most importantly—score drugs from.
They needed a scene. They needed a setting for the soap opera.
And so, Steve Sutherland wrote about this band who hadn’t released a single note of music, calling them:
“The most audacious, androgynous, mysterious, sexy, ironic, absurd, perverse, glamorous, hilarious, honest, cocky, melodramatic, mesmerising band you're ever likely to fall in love with.”
…while the cover declared them “The Best New Band In Britain”:
So, a lot was riding on Suede. And the omens were good! Their first single, ‘The Drowners’, is a knockout, a lascivious glam rock throwback with overtly queer lyrics. It deserved to be a massive hit.
But it wasn’t.
‘The Drowners’ charted at Number 49 in May 1992, one place behind the new Craig McLachlan single, and 38 places below The Levellers, who were exactly the kind of band that Melody Maker liked to ridicule.
Suede’s next single, ’Metal Mickey’, peaked at Number 17, which is respectable but hardly a sign of The Best New Band In Britain. Suede went a little quiet after that as they began recording their debut album.
1993 would be the last chance saloon for Suede, Steve Sutherland, Melody Maker, and possibly the entire British indie scene. If a hit record didn’t arrive soon, indie would be swallowed whole by American alt-rock.
Luckily, Brett Anderson has high hopes for Suede’s next single: the epic piano ballad, ‘Sleeping Pills’.
The delights of a chemical smile
Sony said no to ‘Sleeping Pills’. A fine song, but would have never have been a hit single. Instead, Sony pushed for the more upbeat, hook-driven ‘Animal Nitrate’.
Suede weren’t keen on the idea, but they were too burned out to argue. So they got a big bag of coke, shot a cheap video, and went back to touring.
But Sony were right, and ‘Animal Nitrate’ debuted in the Top 10, becoming a genuinely popular song. Suede were invited at the last minute to perform ‘Animal Nitrate’ at The Brits, which helped cement them as serious contenders. Suede, the debut album, charted at Number One and went on to win the Mercury Music Prize.
All of a sudden, Suede were happening.
And it wasn’t just a band—it was a scene. Other bands with a similar aesthetic were releasing great records, and most of them were hanging around the pubs of North London (and sharing their drugs with journalists). Select celebrated the new scene in a cover that effectively announced the birth of Britpop.
Vox magazine (a spin-off of NME) did a fun bit of gonzo journalism around the time of ‘Animal Nitrate’, where they invited Morrissey along to a Suede gig as a kind of passing-the-torch exercise. Moz dismissed them with one of his finest Moz-isms (“He [Brett] will never forgive God for not making him Angie Bowie”), but a few weeks later he was covering ‘My Insatiable One’ in his live shows.
Now he has gone
I finally made it to London in the early 2000s, shortly after 9/11, and found the entire Britpop world was gone.
Camden was all tourists now. Oasis were turning into Aerosmith; Blur were going a bit Pink Floyd. The only cool guitar bands were people like The Strokes and The White Stripes—all Americans.
The music press might have been the first real victim of the internet age. By the time Napster arrived, Melody Maker was on life support, and the desperate attempts to stay relevant turned it into a laughing stock.
The final issue featured Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst. There was no fanfare, no look back on 74 years of history. Just a quiet announcement that Maker would be merging with NME, which is the publishing equivalent of euthanasia. NME became a general culture magazine, then a free magazine, and is now a Buzzfeed-style website.
Re-reading old issues now, we’re probably better off without the inkies. They were insane: power-drunk journalists writing unhinged rants about pop records, making and breaking careers on a whim. On the whole, they probably did more harm than good.
God, it was fun though, especially when you finally heard the current flavour of the week and it turned out to be something like ‘Animal Nitrate’.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 10 (↑ from 11): ‘Bad Girl’—Madonna
An incredibly glossy video for this underrated Madonna gem, in which Christopher Walken plays a Wings Of Desire-style guardian angel watching over Madonna’s lascivious lifestyle.
The clip was directed by David Fincher, who was still smarting from the failure of his debut movie, Alien 3. Fincher consoled himself by making this video and Michael Jackson’s “Who Is It?”, and possibly could have stayed making music videos for the rest of his life.
But fate moves in mysterious ways. Brad Pitt was shooting a bold new thriller, and both Pitt and the director were battling against the studio, who wanted to tone down the shocking ending. The director quit, Fincher stepped in, and he convinced the suits that the movie needed to end with Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box.
Number 15 (New Entry): ‘Too Young To Die’—Jamiroquai
Jamiroquai are a bit like Coldplay: your feeling about their music is heavily dependent on how irritating you find the lead singer.
Both bands were actually quite exciting when they first appeared and had zero baggage. ‘Too Young To Die’ is a very pleasant bit of funk that unashamedly draws from Stevie Wonder. Just a shame about the hat.
Number 25 (New Entry): ‘Born 2 B.R.E.E.D.’—Monie Love
Welcome to episode 1,378 of our special series, Holy Shit, Are You Telling Me Prince Wrote That Song Too?
Yes, even though this really sounds like Salt-N-Pepa, it is actually authored by Prince. B.R.E.E.D. stands for “Build Relationships where Education and Enlightenment Dominate".
Number 36 (New Entry): ‘All About Eve’—Marxman
Marxman were a multi-racial group of Communist rappers from Ireland, one of whom is the son of trad music legend Donal Lunny.
We’re definitely going to talk more about them soon. ‘All About Eve’ was their only Top 40 single.
Number 32 (New Entry): ‘Crystal Clear’—The Grid
David Ball (the other one from Soft Cell) teamed up with DJ Richard Norris to form The Grid, and they made some pretty good records. ‘Swamp Thing’ is probably their best, but this one is also a good time.
Album of the Week
New Wave—The Auteurs
Okay, I know I’ve used the phrase “first Britpop record” a lot in the past 12 months, including in this very issue.
However, Luke Haines himself once said that this was the first Britpop album, and he’s not right but he’s also not 100% wrong. Indeed, the opening track introduces one of the genre’s key concepts: The Britpop She, a vaguely described woman who is vulnerable and troubled, but also extremely sexy.
Haines’ lyrics can be as arch as Suede’s (the line “your mother is a seamstress” in ‘Junk Shop Clothes’ made me laugh). However, the subject matter feels more like Pulp, with its focus on regret, broken relationships, and general post-Thatcher malaise. There’s some memorable storytelling, like the opening of ‘Early Years’:
“Early years were a shroud, man
Only a grey cloud shot in the dark
Hanging out with your dad
And his plans for revenge”
And a rare acknowledgement of grunge’s domination on ‘American Guitars’:
“I gave up singing when I was told I could not dance
Knew my place in the world when I heard them start
New Wave doesn’t have a standout hit like ‘Lenny Valentino’. It’s also not really a Britpop album, even if contains some of the genre elements.
What it does have is Luke Haines, who has been a consistently interesting songwriters for a long time. New Wave is the first Hainespop record, which makes it historic in its own way.
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I'm gonna steal Jones' opening line and use it on every pitch email I send. What could possibly go wrong? lol.
Still love that first Suede album today!