Dog Man Star
Picture yourself sitting on a futon staring out at one of those interminably gray Cambridge days and pondering what will happen to you when you're spewed forth from the hallowed halls of Harvard into the real world. This is the type of self-induced depressive state that you have to be in to cosmically align yourself with British pop group London Suede's new album, Dog Man Star.
That is, of course, unless you're one of the idol-worshipping fans who drool all over their poster-puttied magazine pin-ups of androgynous lead singer Brett Anderson, in which case all of the songs on the album will take on a deeper sensual connotation. If you're not one of the die-hard few, however, you might be just a bit put off by the continual lyric references to dogs, daddies, pigs, and heroin(es). While the meandering melodies and melancholy rhythms of the songs are innocuous enough, the incessant darkness of the lyrics is distracting and almost contrived.
The twelve songs of Dog Man Star comprise a complicated orchestral departure from the band's first album, Suede. Due to a legal tiff, the band had to add the "London" to the more catchy zing of just Suede.
In contrast to their first album, in which Anderson crooned over minimal synthesizer and string backup, Dog Man Star is cushioned with more developed, at times cheesy, arrangements for guitar, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and flute. The album seems very carefully organized, progressing from the opening track, "Introducing the Band" to the end song, "Still Life." While the entire album is bathed in a Bowie-esque flavor, each song seems to have its own unique sound. Ultimately, though, the album's eclecticism falls apart because its frequent musical borrowings from well-established styles are none too subtle.
One reason that American audiences may not have yet warmed to the group's sound is the prevalence of bizarre non-sequiturs inserted into the lyrics, seemingly only for shock value. In the opening bars of the third track, "Heroine," Anderson sings, "She walks in beauty like the night/Discarding her clothes in the plastic flowers/ Pornographic and tragic in black and white/ My Marilyn come to my slum for an hour." While some might deem this cacophony of metaphors poetic, the sheer blender-mixed quality disturbs the song's coherence. This choppiness makes it difficult the type of emotional kinship that seems to be the band's goal.
It is with the issue of the lyrics that the distinction between the fan and non-fan is most evident. The fan feels such a deep emotional connection to the sound of the music that the incoherence of the lyrics is irrelevant. To a non-fan, the incomprehensible lyrics distract from the sound of the band.
London Suede's career and music are typically British. When the first album hit British audiences in 1993, critics compared lead singer Anderson's sound to Morrissey and the Smiths, predicting that when the band's dark melodies traversed the Atlantic, the group would top the charts. Despite the almost cult-like devotion that the band has inspired in a limited number of American fans, a year later the group's popularity is still out to sea, bobbing around with countless other British pop upstarts that never quite make the boat.