"Pick a fight with Suede, you gonna pick a fight with the Suede fanbase," warned Matt Lucas on Shooting Stars in 1997. Leave aside the fact that Lucas was then dressed as a menacing man-baby: the truly surreal thing about this pop culture nugget is its target. Suede, suburbia’s moodiest, druggiest misfits, were now so mainstream-famous that they could be knowingly mocked on primetime, thanks to their biggest album yet, the hit-rammed, melody-overloaded Coming Up.
Fifteen years later, it seems obvious that Britpop’s John the Baptists would rise from the grave to claim some of the rewards being lavished on lesser lights like Kula Shaker and Shed Seven, but it wasn't at the time. Despite their punchy 1993 debut generating a whirlwind of hype, the loss of wunderkind guitarist Bernard Butler and the sprawling darkness of 1994’s subsequent Dog Man Star read like a two-part commercial suicide note. Replacing Butler with a teenage fanboy and the drummer’s cousin was hardly encouraging.
Yet amongst the B sides, lost songs and demos lovingly collected in this third lavish re-issue from the Suede back catalogue (the compilers clearly taking Matt Lucas’ threat seriously) lies the first clue that everything was about to go magically right. Together, a 1994 B side, was the first collaboration between Brett Anderson and new guitarist, Richard Oakes: its shamelessly poppy ebullience, fizzy guitars and breezy bubblegum vocal created a blueprint for the album which followed.
And what a dazzling, spangly pop album Coming Up, remains, made shinier still by expert remastering. Anderson cites the surging outsiders anthem Trash as the pinnacle, but Beautiful Ones is more remarkable, the urgent, knotty wordplay of its verses giving way to an ecstatic chorus which embodies the album's title (the demo fascinatingly reveals that the song began life as Beatles-y whimsy). That these big pop beasts were interspersed with savage melodramas like She and swooning love songs like Picnic by the Motorway made Coming Up more alluring and enduring.
In retrospect, the seeds of the band's later decline were also planted here. The blandly anthemic Saturday Night paved the way for later FM fluff, while the B sides soon plummeted from air-punching (Every Monday Morning Comes) to scab-scratching (These Are the Sad Songs). But let’s dwell on Suede's sad decay when their last two albums are re-issued: for now, this fan-dream edition of Coming Up captures a band that still seemed capable of anything.