Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 70
Sat. April 6, 2013
What devoted Suede-head could ever forget “Still Life?” Dog Man Star’s climactic finale was actually first penned by guitarist Bernard Butler as a slow acoustic like sequel to stripped down closing beauty from Suede’s debut “The Next Life.” And then Bernard Butler quit Suede and that left singer Brett Anderson to finish mixing their second record with producer Ed Buller. Brett reminisced about recording the strings for “Still Life” in David Barnett’s authorized biography Suede: Love & Poison, when he said, “I can’t remember if we did the orchestra on “Still Life” after Bernard left or before. I can’t imagine if Bernard was there he would have wanted the orchestra to be so bombastic. It sort of sounds like the arrangement was possibly conceived after he left.”
Bernard composed “Still Life” towards the end of his tenure with the band. Brett could tell his relationship with his guitarist and friend Butler was deteriorating as he explained in Love & Poison when he said, “And I remember meeting Bernard in the hotel and he was in a really bad mood. And I said, “Oh, how’s it been going?” He says, “I’ve been working, what have you been doing?” And I was like, “Oh, I’ve been enjoying myself,” and I got the sense that I was maybe enjoying myself a little too much. I know what he’d been working on “Still Life.” I think we were sort of writing it for the first album, and we didn’t know how the fuck we’d arrange it, we hadn’t even thought of the orchestras. So I got the sense that he was seeing me in a certain way, demonizing me maybe, which developed into the whole split between us.”
More than a song that split up Suede, Brett described “Still Life,” another in the line of epic finales that have become a lyrical foray in Anderson and Butler’s once united partnership, when he described “Still Life” as, “The housewives of Sleeping Pills return to the stage extending the themes of isolation that I had been weaving through the album since We Are The Pigs (and for that matter weaving through Suede songs since He’s Dead). This song was written very early on and almost made it onto the debut album… but we were just never quite sure how to arrange it. It’s a simple story of someone waiting in vain for their lover to come home, sat by the window wondering who the approaching set of head lights belongs to. I suppose I cast myself as the housewife in this song and remember accessing a lot of latent pain in order to summon up the bleak imagery.”
Dog Man Star and specifically “Still Life” captures that sense of widescreen anticipation of waiting for your lover to arrive. Cinematic in its orchestra string arrangements, “Still Life” remains one of the most glorious epics in Suede’s eclectically electric song canon. Still not everyone was a fan of “Still Life,” producer Ed Buller spoke of his reservations on Dog Man Star’s climatic track when he complained, “(pausing and exhaling a deep breath), I don’t know… Still Life is the only track that I really think fails, because it’s too over-the-top! It was a nice idea, but it is so pretentious. Sometimes I listen to it and I think we pulled it off, but other times I listen to it and I think, “Ok, that was a step too far.” It’s difficult, because on Dog Man Star, a lot of it was experimental, I didn’t know what a lot of these songs sounded like, because on the first album, they could play them as a band, but on the second album, they really couldn’t play anything as a band. In fact, half of it was recorded with everybody separately, partly because of the difficult relationship Bernard was having with people at the time. So, it’s difficult and I can’t think of a Suede track that we really radically altered in production, no. I think they all pretty much turned out the way we intended.”
You can experience Dog Man Star’s climatic track as nature intended, with it’s bombastic arrangement, “Still Life” lives on as a reflection of a disintegrating band and more importantly as piece de resistance from one of the best bands of the Brit Pop era; Suede definitely made being in solitude sound so gloriously stoic. Journey inside the mind of Brett Anderson and resurrect this classic that is “Still Life” again.