Entry #8 – B-Side Myself I: Head Music (a.k.a Experimentalier)

Head Music - Wikipedia

At the end of my review of Head Music I stated that I would not be leaving it there as while the album was overall good, it was still very inconsistent. Songs like Elephant Man, Asbestos and Crack in the Union Jack all left a sour taste in the mouth and made me think that surely there could and should have been better songs to replace them.

Lo and behold, the answer seems to be yes.

The 20th Anniversary edition of Head Music that I have saved in my Spotify library comes jam packed with a whole bunch of b-sides and rejected songs. Both have fascinated me in an overall capacity since I got into music, providing an opportunity to explore new avenues bands couldn’t quite bring themselves to commit to.

Music is a subjective art and b-sides are the ultimate example of that. You get some people saying they were rightly left off the main album, and others cursing bands for not having enough faith in them. For me it started when I picked up the Oasis compilation album The Masterplan, a collection of b-sides from their first three albums (Well, two, seeing as the only one from Be Here Now is Going Nowhere). It’s my favourite Oasis album, and I think the reason for that is I had no expectations whatsoever going into it. After all these were songs that were rejected for presumably much better ones, but they are on par if not even better than most Oasis songs (For the record, Rockin Chair is my favourite).

So we come to the b-sides from Suede. The difference here is that instead I do have expectations going into this one. I expect some of the songs I hear are going to be at least somewhat better than Crack in the Union Jack. Surely it can’t be any worse, can it?

I’m not going to listen to and list every single song on the 20th anniversary edition, that would take far too long, so instead I’m just going to note down some of the highlights.

Song: Implement Yeah!

B-Side to: Electricity

Oh I really want to like this one more. It’s good and the opening made me think that this was going to be along the lines of Can’t Get Enough. But it’s not experimental enough for Head Music and initially I thought it would be better suited for Coming Up. Then Brett’s vocals came in. Lo-fi and blurted out in short packages, they’re better suited for something from the Prodigy than Suede. Catchy but best left removed from the final album.

Song: Waterloo

B-Side to: Electricity

Here’s a song Neil not only wrote by himself but actually sang lead vocals on. And you know what? He does a pretty good job, lending the song a bittersweet tone. At first as this song started with the acoustic guitar, I started to get flashbacks to Crack in the Union Jack but then the bass drum crept in after the first verse and my mind was put at ease. While like Crack it is a very minimalist song, it has additional bits and pieces that make it sound like it was more than just a demo, especially Richard’s electric guitar solo in the middle eight. I feel like this should have been the final track on the album instead. I know that Brett has sung all the a-sides in the Suede catalogue and it would be jarring to end an album with Neil instead, but Head Music was meant to be the band’s most experimental record up to that point right? I’d say ending with a change in vocalist is pretty damned experimental!

Song: See That Girl

B-Side to: Electricity

I actually misheard the lyric “She likes the steel inside her” and thought Brett had sung “She likes Neil inside her”. I nearly lost my shit.

Regardless of that though, this isn’t a favourite of mine. Inoffensive is probably the best way to describe it. However, given it’s all about a girl Brett describes in itty-bitty detail, this could probably replace Savoir Faire.

Song: Bored

B-Side to: She’s in Fashion

Now onto the b-sides from She’s in Fashion and this is a high energy one to start off with. In fact, given the title, it feels like the band are acting out against the feeling of boredom and going ‘F*ck it, let’s make some music!’. If it had add some additional Head Music-style electronic noises from Neil then I think this could have easily been slotted into the second half of the final playlist, maybe in the place of Elephant Man. Not a spectacular effort by any means but still not a bad way to kill a few minutes.

Song: Jubilee

B-Side to: She’s in Fashion

Not to be confused with Blur’s effort from Parklife. Mind you, I’m willing to bet that’s why it was left off, people would have inevitably drawn up comparisons. I’ll refrain from doing so here.

This should have been on the album. While it recycles the ‘we’re the litter on the breeze’ lyric from Trash which struck me as pure laziness, I had a blast listening to this one and credit has to be given to Brett’s performance here. It’s one of the best he’s ever done, especially during the climax of the chorus; the way he sings ‘Come take my hand’ is majestic. Just change the title and this would have easily been one of the highlights of the album had it been included.

Song: God’s Gift

B-Side to: She’s in Fashion

Capping off the She’s in Fashion b-sides, this song proves that if you bought the single in 1999 then you would have got more than your money’s worth with the b-sides. After a few seconds of what sounds like faraway industrial sounds we transition into a piano piece with Neil doing his usual bit of magic. I have a feeling that this song was particularly personal to Brett and was aimed at someone specific who thought they were the titular God’s gift. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t included. Originally I wanted to advocate for it replacing Crack in the Union Jack (at least until I listened to Waterloo) but then I realised that would mean the main album would have finished with a trilogy of separation songs. It’s a shame because this is definitely finale material, being a quiet and sombre end. Maybe some strings being added to the mix would have done the trick and given the track a little extra pizazz. Then again, I am not a professional musician so perhaps it’s best left how it is.

Song: Since You Went Away

B-Side to: Can’t Get Enough

This barely feels like Suede. I’m pretty sure if you played just the instrumental to someone who had never head this before, they would say the tune came from Oasis. While lyrically this is one of the better efforts from the Head Music sessions, musically it is severely lacking.

Song: Leaving

B-Side to: Everything Will Flow

We start once again with delicate piano sounds that soon give way for the familiar electronic synth sounds we’ve heard across Head Music. This song very much has the same DNA as He’s Gone, being one about a breakup. Unfortunately, maybe it’s because of that that I don’t like this song as much. I’m probably burnt out on this subject matter and want to hear something new. This song does sound beautiful but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table and by the halfway mark we’ve just gone round in circles. If I’d heard this before He’s Gone, Indian Strings and God’s Gift I’d probably like it more but as it stands, I’m tired of this kind of song.

Song: Crackhead

B-Side to: Everything Will Flow

I should have known from that title that this was going to be a darker, more personal one considering how Brett was at the time but boy howdy. I get the impression that he was looking at himself in the mirror while writing this one, lucid and angry. And there is a lot of passion behind his vocals too; during the verses he sounds bitter about how crack robs you of your social life, your mates and replaces all the plans you have as ‘you sold your life for a big white rock’, and then we get to the chorus where he is damn near screaming furiously on how ‘you can’t give it up’. I wanted to argue that the music itself is a bit bland but it feels like they were taking a backseat to let Brett do the work here, as if it were some sort of twisted Suede-style intervention. Great song, but too hard-hitting for the main album.

Song: Seascape

B-Side to: Everything Will Flow

When listening to a song I make notes on the experience. I think the ones I have here for Seascape sum it up nicely:

  • Another piano piece?
  • Wait. It’s an instrumental?
  • Oh my God it is.
  • I’m not sure why the band felt the need to do this. Was this the result of a jamming session or something?
  • I’m here for it though
  • It’s good for thinking, for contemplation.
  • Oh hang on. What if this was a case of the band doing a Happy Mondays and forgetting to write the lyrics?
  • Ah whatever. It’s a nice and calm track.

Song: Heroin

B-Side to: N/A

The only completely unused song on this list, it caught my eye thanks to its title seeing as it was at one point speculated to be the album’s name thanks to Suede’s strategy of revealing the title one letter at a time. Plus, after listening to Crackhead I want to see if they have the balls to keep going down that route. But after hearing Heroin for the first time…I’m not entirely sure. I think it’s the mirror image of Crackhead. A calmer Brett reflecting perhaps about coming down, how it’s ‘taken everything’ ‘as the clouds come in’. Or is about the experience? The music certainly seems to back up that theory; gentle, calm, makes you want to forget all your troubles.

Conclusion:

At the end of the day, Head Music did what it set out to achieve; be a commercially viable, groovy pop record for the dawn of the millennium. But looking into these songs, it makes you think just how different the album could have been.

I’ve said that the first half of the record is brilliant and should not be changed at all. Yes, even Savoir Faire should stay. It’s rubbish, but I think it’s stylistic rubbish. The second half, there’s a lot of room for improvement. But the sad thing is the songs that I would happily include are the ones that wouldn’t suit the overall tone of the album. The best ones here are the slower, more personal songs like God’s Gift, Crackhead and Waterloo, but as I said they wouldn’t suit the pop vibe the album is going for. While they’re experimental, they would cause a severe mood whiplash.

So here is me going into smartarse mode.

If it were up to me, I would have leaned more into the experimental style and made Head Music a double album in the style of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by the Smashing Pumpkins. Have disc one (‘Day’) filled with the poppier, more easy-on-the-ears songs like She’s in Fashion, Electricity, Seascape (Yes I’m including the instrumental), Jubilee and Waterloo, and the more personal and/or gritty songs like Can’t Get Enough, Down, Crackhead, Head Music and Hi-Fi on disc two (‘Night’). Having the two discs would set you up for that whiplash.

Now I’m not saying that would work. But I think it would be more interesting.

Published by midgbrit

Short bloke writing about music on A-Side Glance

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