Having grown up in the United States during the early-2000s, Suede was one of many great British acts that didn't cross my radar. Though the band never really took off in the US, their self-titled debut album – released in March 1993 and widely considered to be the first-ever ‘britpop’ album – was an instant phenomenon in the UK and eventually became one of the fastest-selling albums in British history.
Inspired by earlier acts like The Smiths and David Bowie, the band (led by frontman Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler) combined elements of glam rock, grunge, and alternative music into an entirely new sound that would dominate the UK music scene through the early-to-mid 19990s.
Suede’s debut is set to be the eleventh entry in Super Deluxe Edition’s “Surround Sound Series” of Blu-Ray audio discs, releasing on July 7, 2023. The Blu-Ray will include new stereo, 5.1 & Dolby Atmos remixes by Steven Wilson, plus a new remaster of the original 1993 stereo mix. The Dolby Atmos mix is already available to stream on Apple Music and Tidal.
In terms of the complexity of the production and overall ‘sonic excellence’, Suede’s debut isn’t exactly on par with some of the other classic albums that Wilson has remixed of late (such as ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love or Tears For Fears’ The Hurting). The album was recorded on a shoestring budget, using relatively-basic equipment such as four-track tape machines, but Wilson manages to pull off that difficult trick of getting it to translate remarkably well into immersive audio. As with all great surround sound reinventions of classic albums, the newfound channel separation allows you to step inside the record and appreciate the subtler details.
The original 1993 stereo mix has kind of a murky quality, with the drums and lead vocal often receding further back in the picture in favor of the layered electric guitar parts. Having the guitars in the forefront gives it a somewhat harsh midrange-centric sound, without much serious low-end to speak of. There’s heavy use of phasing and other effects throughout as well, adding to the generally muddy presentation.
Though I’m sure it was tempting to ‘fix’ many of these sonic shortcomings and make the album sound more appealing to audiophiles, Wilson sticks fairly close to the original template. The guitars are still powerful and in the forefront, but the drums - particularly the kick and toms - pack more low-end punch and some of the harsher passages are less fatiguing at high volume.
“So Young” kicks off with Anderson’s vocals ("she can...start...to walk out") alternating left and right between the front height speakers before settling in the center channel. The guitars fill up the room, spread from front to rear, while double-tracked vocals and ‘you-are-there’ ambience rain down from above. There’s even a brief appearance of piano in the rear surrounds prior to the final chorus.
The album interestingly alternates between a frenetic harder rock sound (“Animal Nitrate,” “Moving,” “Metal Mickey”) and melancholic almost-ambient ethereal songs like “She’s Not Dead,” “Sleeping Pills," and “Breakdown.”
It’s the slower songs that I found to be most impressive in the new Atmos presentation, particularly “Sleeping Pills.” Having the cavernous reverb mostly in the height speakers really gives the impression of being in the same space as the band. The big ending crescendo to “Pantomime Horse” is glorious as well.
There’s a particularly fun bit in “Moving” where Anderson’s phase-affected voice slowly glides the room. Some may dismiss this as gimmickry, but I’d argue that the lyrics and music are suggesting it.
The hit single “The Drowners” is of course a highlight, with the thunderous drum intro crashing all around the listener while the guitars come screaming mostly from behind. “Animal Nitrate” sounds great as well, with the opening phased guitar swirling around the top speakers while acoustic pops up in the side surrounds.
Multitrack tapes for the song “Breakdown” were unfortunately unavailable, so the Atmos presentation was synthesized from the original stereo master. While not as spectacular as the other songs – and obviously maintaining the thinner, midrange-y sound of the 1993 mix – the result is surprisingly effective and room-filling. The ending section from around 3:40 on in particular is impressive, with the brass seemingly coming almost entirely from behind.
Overall, it’s another triumph from Steven Wilson, and I can’t wait to experience the lossless TrueHD/Atmos presentation on Blu-Ray in several weeks’ time. As of this writing, the Blu-Ray remains available on SDE’s website - if you enjoy this music and haven’t already pre-ordered, don’t hesitate!