Head Music

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Head Music
Studio album by Suede
Released 3 May 1999
Recorded August 1998 – February 1999
Genre Alternative rock
Length 57:47
Label Nude Records
Producer Steve Osborne, Bruce Lampcov
Suede chronology
Sci-Fi Lullabies
(1997)
Head Music
(1999)
A New Morning
(2002)
Singles from Head Music
  1. "Electricity"
    Released: 12 April 1999
  2. "She's in Fashion"
    Released: 21 June 1999
  3. "Everything Will Flow"
    Released: 6 September 1999
  4. "Can't Get Enough"
    Released: 8 November 1999

Head Music is the fourth album by English alternative rock band Suede, released by Nude Records in May 1999. Produced and mixed by Steve Osborne, Head Music features a more electronic sound, which was a new approach for the band. The recording of Head Music was plagued with difficulties such as singer Brett Anderson's addiction to crack, and keyboardist Neil Codling's struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome. Although the album still went to number 1 on the UK Albums Chart, making it the band's third and final chart-topping album. Overall, the album received generally favourable reviews from critics although it did have some detractors.

Background and recording[edit]

After the release of the B-sides compilation Sci-Fi Lullabies, Suede decided to put themselves out of the limelight for over a year. Neil Codling spent most of the year in bed due to his illness and at the same time Anderson's drug abuse was becoming a cause for concern. Anderson began to associate himself with people outwith the band, who Mat Osman, seemed to dislike. "More than anything there started to be a whole load of people he was associating with who I just couldn't stand. They had nothing to do with the band, nothing to do with anything but drugs. They were drug buddies."[1]

Suede decided to move on from Ed Buller as their producer. After demoing 15 songs with three different producers,[2] wanting to go in a more produced, electronic-sounding direction, the group chose Steve Osborne to produce the album.[3] According to Anderson, Head Music was Suede's most experimental album,[4] and Osborne's role played into the group's experimentation, "Steve was responsible for a hell of a lot of this album's sound. We chose him first of all because he did this fucking brilliant job on 'Savoir Faire'... It just sounded really exciting and unusual."[4] Osborne's involvement sparked rumours of Suede going in a dancier direction, which the band strongly denied.[5]

"It's a fantastic album, but it could’ve been a lot better if we had left a couple things off of it. I still don’t know why the hell we put "Crack in the Union Jack" and "Elephant Man" on there. It was meant to be an experimental record; we were trying to again push Suede in a slightly different direction. It was made with the right intentions, but it confused a lot of the fans."

 — In hindsight, Brett Anderson divulging his regrets on the album.[6]

Osborne was initially hired for one week of trial-run recording at Mayfair Studios, just to see how the process was going to work, or indeed if the two parties could work together.[3] Suede's biographer David Barnett remembers the day when they did a test-run of "Savoir Faire" with Osborne at the trial sessions. He recalls being offered a crack pipe by two of Anderson's friends. "Naively assuming it to be a hash pipe, I took them up on the offer and was surprised to experience a sensation akin to inhaling several bottles of poppers at the same time. This was my first and last personal encounter with crack."[7] Anderson was addicted to the drug for two and a half years, but stopped in late 1999 when somebody very close to him became ill. He has been clean since.[8]

Head Music was recorded between August 1998 and February 1999, several studios were used including, Eastcote, Sarm Hook End, Master Rock and Eden Studios.[3] For guitarist Richard Oakes, the rehearsals for Head Music were unpleasant. Faced with Anderson's hedonistic lifestyle, Oakes began to drink more to make rehearsing more endurable. As he recalls: "I remember for quite a few of them, having to make sure that I was semi drunk just in order to turn up."[9] Oakes also found his contributions being regularly knocked back in favour of Anderson and Codling's electronic experiments.[10] Anderson felt that his spiralling drug use and Codling's illness made Oakes become more isolated from the group; and that the only people who were still getting on well were Osman and drummer Simon Gilbert.[11] At one point relationships became so strained that Anderson demanded future member Alex Lee to be summoned to the studio presumably because no one else was willing to turn up.[12]

The album is notable for being the first Suede album to have a title track. "Head Music" was one of Anderson's personal offerings, which Nude's Saul Galpern insisted should not go on the album. Osborne actually refused to record it, instead they got Arthur Baker to do a version, however they disliked it.[13] Osborne eventually relented, but was not so flexible when it came Codling's next offering. "Elephant Man", which is the only song on a Suede album not written or co-written by Anderson. It was recorded, mixed and engineered by Bruce Lampcov.[14] Codling contributed a greater amount of material to Head Music than Coming Up, receiving writing credits on six songs. Anderson has said the album was influenced by Asian Dub Foundation, Audioweb, Tricky, Prince and Lee "Scratch" Perry.[15]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[16]
BBC (favourable)[17]
Drowned in Sound (7/10)[18]
Entertainment Weekly (C-)[19]
The Independent (favourable)[20]
Los Angeles Daily News 3/4 stars[21]
NME (7/10)[22]
Pitchfork Media (7.4/10)[23]
PopMatters (7/10)[24]
Spin (7/10)[25]

There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of Head Music, with numerous TV appearances including, CD:UK, The O-Zone, Top of the Pops, The Pepsi Chart Show and TFI Friday.[26] Uncut featured Suede in an 18-page special in May 1999 chronicling the band's ten-year history, with the tagline: "Brett Anderson on a decade of decadence and debauchery".[27] Virgin Megastores across the UK were re-branded, changing its name to "Head Music" the day the album was released.[28] Commercially the album was a success and was the band's third album to chart at no. 1 in the UK.[29]

The album received mostly favourable reviews with a minority of detractors.[30] The NME rated it 7 out of 10, criticising Anderson's lyrics saying: "Brett Anderson had nothing new to say." They did, on the other hand call it "hair-raising pop" and that the band were "striking out for new pastures."[22] Andy Gill of The Independent, who harshly criticised Coming Up, gave the record a very positive review. He felt that the album was "broader in musical conception than their previous albums." He also felt that Osborne's influence was critical, saying he "naturally brings a more groove-oriented approach to the band's sound, which is slicker and smoother than before, and better reflects the band's 'chemical generation' outlook."[20] The BBC were very favourable. Chris Charles wrote: "OK, you may ask, Brett's wittering on about love and sex and drugs, so what's new? And you'd be right, to an extent. The difference here, though, is that all the pieces of the jigsaw are in the right place." He concluded by calling it "the soundtrack for the future performed by artists in tune with one another."[17]

Reviews in the U.S. were mixed. Tom Lanham of Entertainment Weekly called it a "sad, strangely lackluster epitaph." He added, "even the strongest track on Head Music, 'Everything Will Flow', is a cheap echo of vibrant early work."[19] Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club felt the album was their least consistent, saying: "The end result may be the least consistent album in a career marked by consistency, but it's still remarkable and well-represented by the grandiose pop of "Electricity," "She's in Fashion," and "He's Gone," which do sound like proper Suede songs.[31] Spin gave it 7 out of 10, Barry Walters wrote: "Suede and Steve Osborne achieve a hard precision that brings back the brutality of early Suede while lending a complex sheen to simplistic material.[25] Head Music has sold about 26,000 copies in the US as of 2008 according to Nielsen SoundScan.[32]

Some critics saw Head Music as a major step forward from previous album Coming Up. Christina Rees of the Dallas Observer wrote: "If Suede couldn't erase the influence of Oakes' predecessor, Bernard Butler, on 1996's Coming Up, it has certainly succeeded now..." She also added, "If the "new" Suede didn't show up on Coming Up, it seethes through Head Music."[33] Similarly an ABC article wrote: "Head Music fills in the gaps of Coming Up and succeeds in being the best record the band has made since its début, finally laying Bernard Butler's looming ghost to rest.[34]

Fans and critics commented on Anderson's repetitive lyrics and lack of lyrical themes, in particular "Savoir Faire", which received attention and criticism.[35] In 2002, Anderson admitted that he was "a smack addict for ages".[36] Many critics linked the album's lack of creativity to Anderson's increasing drug use, mainly crack and heroin. Nick Duerden of The Independent felt that Head Music was blighted by his descent into addiction, calling it a "rather ugly record".[8] Writing for The Guardian, John Harris had similar views, saying "it was a fair bet, therefore, that the drug played its part in the creation of their most ludicrous album, 1999's Head Music."[37] Melody Maker placed the album at no. 1 in its "Best Albums of 1999" list.[38]

Title and artwork[edit]

As a joke, the group originally started to leak the album's title to the press one letter at a time.[5][39] But two days after releasing the second letter, bassist Mat Osman announced the album's title and explained where the idea of releasing the title one letter at a time come from: "Saul [Galpern], head of Nude was hassling for a title, and Brett said, 'I'll tell you one letter at a time until you can guess it."[5] The artwork, which features Anderson's girlfriend Sam, and Neil Codling, was art directed by Peter Saville and designed by Howard Wakefield and Paul Hetherington. Anderson told Saville "I wanted two people joined at the head, sort of listening to each other's heads. He showed me some photos and we eventually got the cover we released."[40]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Electricity"   Brett Anderson, Neil Codling, Richard Oakes 4:39
2. "Savoir Faire"   Anderson 4:37
3. "Can't Get Enough"   Anderson, Codling 3:58
4. "Everything Will Flow"   Anderson, Oakes 4:41
5. "Down"   Anderson, Oakes 6:12
6. "She's in Fashion"   Anderson, Codling 4:53
7. "Asbestos"   Anderson, Codling 5:17
8. "Head Music"   Anderson 3:23
9. "Elephant Man"   Codling 3:06
10. "Hi-Fi"   Anderson 5:09
11. "Indian Strings"   Anderson 4:21
12. "He's Gone"   Anderson, Codling 5:35
13. "Crack in the Union Jack"   Anderson 1:56

2011 Remastered and Expanded Version[edit]

Disc One: Demos
No. Title Length
1. "Indian Strings" (Brett's original 8 track demo) 4.04
2. "Everything Will Flow" (Protocol Demo) 7:10
3. "He's Gone" (Protocol Demo) 5:17
4. "She's in Fashion" (Protocol Demo) 5:19
Disc Two: The B-Sides
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Leaving"   Anderson, Oakes 4:17
2. "Popstar"   Anderson, Simon Gilbert, Mat Osman, Oakes 5:36
3. "Killer"   Anderson, Oakes 4:58
4. "Implement Yeah!"   Anderson, Bernard Butler, Justine Frischmann, Osman, Gilbert 2:34
5. "Waterloo"   Codling 3:59
6. "See That Girl"   Anderson 4:28
7. "Bored"   Anderson, Oakes 3:02
8. "Pieces of My Mind"   Anderson 4:35
9. "Jubilee"   Anderson, Codling 3:47
10. "God's Gift"   Anderson 2:55
11. "Seascape"   Anderson 3:56
12. "Crackhead"   Anderson, Osman, Gilbert, Oakes, Codling 5:53
13. "Let Go"   Anderson, Codling 4:25
14. "Since You Went Away"   Anderson 3:06
15. "Situations"   Anderson, Codling 4:53
16. "Read My Mind"   Anderson 4:41
Extra Tracks
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Poor Little Rich Girl" (Featuring Raissa) Noël Coward 5:53
2. "Heroin"   Anderson 2:55
3. "Music Like Sex" (Previously unreleased) Anderson, Oakes 3:53

Personnel[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Barnett, p. 219
  2. ^ Author unknown. "Coming Up? Suede's Fourth Album". nme.com. 14 January 1999.
  3. ^ a b c Flint, Tom. "Recording Suede's 'She's in Fashion'". Sound on Sound August 2000.
  4. ^ a b Author unknown. "Loops, Upside Your Head". nme.com. 14 February 1999.
  5. ^ a b c Author unknown. "Suede Forge A Head". nme.com. 16 January 1999.
  6. ^ Martell, Nevin (13 April 2011). "Brett Anderson and Mat Osman on Suede's Discography". Filter. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  7. ^ Barnett, David. "Suede: Love & Poison". The Observer. 19 October 2003
  8. ^ a b Duerden, Nick (18 October 2003). "I was a very strange human being indeed". The Independent. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Barnett, p. 220
  10. ^ Barnett, p. 223
  11. ^ Barnett, p. 222
  12. ^ Barnett, p. 224
  13. ^ Barnett, p. 225
  14. ^ Barnett, p. 225-226
  15. ^ Author unknown. "Suede's 13". nme.com. 14 February 1999
  16. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Allmusic review". Allmusic. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Charles, Chris (30 April 1999). "CD Review: Suede". BBC. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  18. ^ Lukowski, Andrzej (23 June 2011). "Suede: Head Music (Reissue)". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Lanham, Tom (16 July 1999). "Music Review: The London Suede". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  20. ^ a b "Pop: The Big Noise: Suede – Head Music". The Independent. 30 April 1999. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  21. ^ Shuster, Fred (16 July 1999). "Sound Check". Los Angeles Daily News. Archived at The Free Library. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  22. ^ a b "Suede – Head Music". NME. 28 March 1999. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Tangari, Joe (24 June 2011). "Suede: Head Music [Deluxe Edition]". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  24. ^ Zupko, Sarah. "Suede: Head Music". Popmatters. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  25. ^ a b Walters, Barry (July 1999). "Spin record reviews". SpinGoogle Books. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  26. ^ Barnett, p. 230
  27. ^ Where to find Suede in print.
  28. ^ Author unknown. "Suede 'Head' Instore". nme.com. 28 March 1999.
  29. ^ "Artist Chart History: Suede". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 13 June 2013. .
  30. ^ Sturges, Fiona (1 May 1999). "The Week in Review". The Independent. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  31. ^ Phipps, Keith "Head Music review". The A.V. Club. 29 March 2002
  32. ^ Caulfield, Keith. "Ask Billboard: Blue Suede Shoes". Billboard.com. 26 September 2008
  33. ^ Rees, Christina. "Getting a Big Head". Dallas Observer. 8 July 1999
  34. ^ Author unknown. "Suede guest programs rage". ABC. 16 October 1999
  35. ^ Segal, Victoria. "Better the devil you know". The Times. 23 April 2005
  36. ^ Author unknown. "I was a crack addict". nme.com. 16 September 2002
  37. ^ Harris, John. "Pipe down". The Guardian. 11 February 2005
  38. ^ End Of Year Critic Lists. Melody Maker. 1999. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  39. ^ Author unknown. "Suede Drop H-Bomb". nme.com. 14 January 1999.
  40. ^ Richard, John."Suede showcasing multi-media". Canoe.ca. 27 May 1999