As the majority of Suede fans know all too well, Suede have only ever made three good albums: their eponymous debut, Dog Man Star, and Coming Up. Despite the evolution in themes across these albums, from squalid suburban romance, through an epic Orwellian dystopia and finally into an ether-fuelled euphoria, Brett Anderson’s songwriting maintained a consistently high quality. Unfortunately after those three albums his creative well must truly have run dry, as demonstrated by some of the horrors lurking in 1999’s Head Music. Some examples:
From the chorus of title track ‘Head Music’:
So give me head, give me head, give me head music instead, You know oh is it all in the mind?
To the even more risible ‘Elephant Man’:
I am, I am the elephant man It is incredible how I can look just like just like an elephant man, just like, just like my elephant fans
Jesus fucking Christ.
They managed to churn out another album so poorly received that I didn’t even bother to listen to it before the band finally imploded in 2003. Since then Brett has kept himself occupied churning out several solo efforts, an admirable collaboration with Bernard Butler and strutting about looking like a sexy triangle, and now in 2013 Suede are back together and have been busy in the studio.
In the light of their reappearance I’d like to delve into what I think might have been a key part of their downfall, Brett’s growing dependence on fucking similes, and whether this has doomed the future of Suede forever (cue dramatic music).
Many of the challenges Suede have faced have been well documented. Infighting in the band during the recording of Dog Man Star led to Bernard’s departure, Brett got himself addicted to crack and heroin in the late 90s, and Richard Oakes has a big face. Less well investigated is use of the simile in Suede’s body of work, and to this end I have employed science and rigour and spreadsheets and stuff.
Step 1 – Lyrics
First up we’re going to need samples of Mr Anderson’s lyrical output. For the purposes of this study I have chosen all album tracks from Suede’s five studio albums, excluding B-sides and compilations, and the two songs released so far from their upcoming album ‘Bloodsports‘. This makes a total of 59 songs. All lyrics have been taken from the song database at Suede Online with the exception of their two latest tracks. A Google search turned up fairly solid looking lyrics for ‘Barriers’ here, while ‘It Starts and Ends with You’ turned out to be a trickier prospect. I’m reasonably happy with the lyrics here with the exception of the first two lines which are clearly bollocks, and which I think should be:
Like a cause without a martyr
Like an effigy of Voltaire
It has probably not escaped your attention that the first two lines of that song are similes.
Step 2 – Word frequency analysis
By feeding the lyrics for each song into an online word frequency analysis tool I end up with lists of words, sorted by descending order of frequency. I then grouped the word lists for each song by album.
Step 3 – Identifying similes
The simplest way to identify a simile in these lyrics is to look for occurrences of the word ‘like’, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.
Step 4 – Anderson Simile Index
This sort of exercise is much more fun if you drop in completely unnecessary and laughably flawed ways of measuring things. In this case I’ve developed the Anderson Simile Index, or ASI. To calculate the ASI for any given Suede album, simply divide the total number of similes by the number of album tracks. Easy!
Step 5 – Present the motherfucking findings
Findings indeed. Let’s have a look at ’em!
Firstly let’s look at the ASI for each of their studio albums:
Suede = 0.27 ASI
Dog Man Star = 1.08 ASI
Coming Up = 0.4 ASI
Head Music = 4.85 ASI
A New Morning = 1.45 ASI
Even this high level view shows alarming ASI levels in Head Music. I didn’t expect the sublime Dog Man Star to peak at just over 1 ASI, although that’s still quite low. Conversely the dreadful A New Morning emerges lower than I expected at 1.45 ASI.
Here is a visual representation in graph form of relative ASI by album:
But what does this hold for the future?” you bawl at me, maddened by your thirst for the sweet nectar of fact. Let me slake that thirst now…
Bloodsports (2 songs only) = 3.5 ASI
Oh Brett, what have you done? My first impressions were that these two songs from the new album signal an interesting new direction for Suede, but the ASI paints a bleak and foreboding picture. A picture with ravens and gravestones and zombies and that. And spooky cobwebs.
It’s quite possible that analysing these two songs in isolation gives a skewed result, and the rest of the album is simile-free, but it’s equally possible that ‘Bloodsports’ is going to be fucking shit. I note that the ASI is biased towards ‘It Starts and Ends with You’ rather than ‘Barriers’ by a factor of 6:1, which may or may not mean something. Let’s look a little deeper into the data, and see what it tells us. It’s hardly surprising that four of the worst offending songs are on Head Music, and here they are with their respective simile-counts:
He's Gone - 17 similes
Elephant Man - tied 15 similes
Can't Get Enough - tied 15 similes
Electricity - 13 similes
Somewhat controversially these four songs each happen to give credit to Neil Codling as co-writer, and in fact ‘Elephant Man’ is his alone. Could it be that Codling is the cancer that is poisoning Suede and Mr Anderson is in fact a blameless sexy triangle? Only time will tell, and I fully intend to revisit this analysis in March when ‘Bloodsports’ is released and the Anderson Simile Index has been judiciously applied.For those of you who might want to scrutinise my workings or perform some Suede lyrical analysis of your own, the data in Microsoft Excel format is here.