I *hated* this album when it came out, to the point that I gave my copy away after all of about two listens. However reviewing it again now there is a lot to like – it’s got it’s flaws but Head Music is by no means a bad album.
I think there were a few different things that contributed to my visceral reaction at the time but primarily it suffered from the weight of expectation. Coming Up had been a huge success for the band and the pre release campaign for Head Music was insane, including things like all HMV stores being renamed for launch day. The album also has a sonic pallet that no one was quite ready for from them at that time (reggae dub electro suede?).
The other notable factor was that the fact that the further into the Head Music campaign it got the less the band seemed to want to be there either. I won’t rake over it here because we all know now in hindsight why that was but even at the time I was aware that while he brushed up well for the videos Brett was beginning to look seriously out of it. I found it increasingly unsettling watching interviews and live performances from that period and in many cases still do now.
I did see them live twice during the era – once was as good as usual but once was the only time I’ve ever not enjoyed them live. I weirdly bought all the singles (you can’t keep a good fangirl down I guess) so it wasn’t a full on ‘I’m done with you’ moment – not like that time I tore down all my Bros posters in one day. But this was definitely the period in which I felt least engaged with the band in general.
There were a few tracks I listened to in the intervening time but it wasn’t until several years later after the release of A New Morning that I gave it a proper go again and found to my surprise that I really liked it. At a different point in my life and all of the surrounding mess out of the way I felt very differently about it. I now listen to it (or almost all of it at least) on a fairly regular basis. It’s a bit of a game of two halves and there is some less than stellar stuff on it but far from the ‘difficult’ listen I pigeon holed it as at the time it’s also brimming with some of their best songs. There a few criminally neglected b-sides (I feel like every fan has their own fantasy version of Head Music swapping in some of the b-sides) and it was a divisive album for fans and the press at the time so I’m guessing I’m not the only one who bristled at this unexpected version of suede. But all in I think history has been kind to this record and it stands up surprisingly well today.
‘We got a love like AC/DC’
I can’t really get excited about this track I’m afraid. It’s a very specific kind of suede song that I’ve never been so keen on (and that ironically peppered the Tears album) and while it’s not terrible it’s just very ‘whatever’.
‘And she got everything she needs
Harmony and ecstasy
And she got pretty, pretty feet
Painted toes and soft, soft soles
And she got flowers in her hair
Daffodils from windowsills’
I love this track. I swear I’m not just trying to be obtuse since it tends to be at the epicenter of any criticisms of the album – mainly due to that opening lyric which people are weirdly fixated on. Much like Madonna’s Soy Latte I’m a bit baffled as to how anyone could take it seriously but it’s also frustrating because I actually love the lyrics in the song in general. It has a dreamy, sweet, trippy-hippy vibe and never fails to put a smile on my face.
Can’t Get Enough
‘I feel real now walking like a woman and talking like a stone age man’
This is for me probably their best pure pop single. A perfect example of the thuggish swagger that only suede do so well. ‘Talking like sugar and shaking that stuff.’
Everything Will Flow
‘Life is just a lullaby’
Another glorious single. I understand why a lot of people don’t like this since it’s so insanely radio-friendly and .. *gasp* .. optimistic but I think it’s beautiful. The woozy guitar line in the instrumental section particularly just transports me to a warm sunny place where everything will be ok.
‘And the ambulances sigh that you’re down
And the traffic speeding by says you’re down
And the people in your mind, they say you’re down
and you’re down’
This truly is an underrated gem. Heartbreakingly melancholic and one of the most elegant expressions of the mental disconnect that can happen when, as Dolly once put it, ‘sometimes without knowing it I touch my face and find it wet’. This is one of those songs that if I play it at the wrong time will never fail to make me weepy.
She’s In Fashion
‘And if she tells you two is one
Then two is one my love
And if she tells you you should know
Then you should know my love’
For me this track is basically Coming Up without the annoying production. It’s arguably edging towards the wrong side of radio-friendly (and was never off the TV as incidental music at the time) but it rescues itself from the brink for me and I do enjoy it. I also adore the lyric ‘she’s the colour of a magazine’.
‘Scheming like a schoolboy
watching you boy
come in and lets be friends’
Head Music is a bit of a ‘bops up top’ affair and this is the point that it left turns into the stuff that people most commonly think of when they recall the album. I was completely ambivalent to this at the time but I really like it now, It’s got a nice mellow groove. There’s definitely a feeling on this album of Brett playing with the way words sound rather than just what they mean and there’s some lovely examples on this like ‘listening to Lulu, Amazulu’. Some lovely bluesy brass towards the end too.
‘Give me head, give me head, give me head music instead’
Once you get over the awfulness/brilliance of the fact that this entire song is wrapped around a ridiculous innuendo it’s a pleasant if not earth shattering little number.
‘We love that satisfying rattling crash
The sound of registers full of cash
We’ll be all over your town like a rash
We’ll steal your children and smoke all your hash’
The most hated suede album track? It certainly seems to be the butt of the most jokes. I really like it personally – sort of agro-pop Fall-lite. But then I’m a sucker for bands writing songs about their own egos.
‘She and me together speed through space and time’
This one gets a bit lost along the way I think. It has potential but ends up a bit sludgy and doesn’t really go anywhere. Not awful or annoying but not much of anything.
‘Images of violence fill up my mind
And you see the silence, feel it inside
And you’ll see my heart is broke in two
Cos I’ve seen the real you’
I hated this at the time, I love it now. A beautiful, sad little song and another hidden gem. I find it quite moving and those wonderful woozy instrumentals make it feel like a sort of moody bookend to Everything Will Flow in my mind.
‘Tears on a pillow
Eyes on the phone
You pour all the love that you keep inside
Into a song
Like ‘He’s Gone’’
A classic suede ballad easily as good as many of the more cherished tracks from the earlier albums. Live versions always make my eyes water a wee bit.
Crack In The Union Jack
‘Another day, another low
Another midday TV show’
The only song on the album I can’t listen to. The melody is pleasant enough but the lyrics make me want to crawl into a foetal ball and not come out until it’s stopped. Sorry Brett.
Overall score: an 8/10 with a 9/10 desperately trying to get out
Crib notes: When it’s good it’s very, very good but when it’s bad it’s awful. Not actually as stupid as a mouse.
Listen to it when: Optimistic but prone to melancholy.
In a fantasy world I would: Swap out Electricity, Hi-Fi and Crack In The Union Jack for b-sides Heroin (why that song was a b-side I will never understand) Popstar and the beautiful instrumental track Seascape.