Back in 1996 I fell in love with the pop rock album, Coming Up, by Suede, said music used to keep me company when working nights a few years ago (and also whilst writing this review). Combining elements of bouncy pop, glam rock, and melancholy laden tracks, to give it a good balance, the album teeters between throwaway music and the poignant atmosphere of emptiness layered tunes.
Seeing this book in the shops, it was a matter of chance that I chose to idly browse through – as well as hum one of the tunes from yesteryear – whilst waiting for the missus to finish shopping for makeup. Owing to a lack of blurb, and viewing the usual positive quotes with suspicion, I was pleasantly surprised with the writing style and how Anderson conveyed his story.
Although Coal Black Mornings stops short of the those commercially popular times for the band, this is a still very much worth the read even for those who have never heard of the band. Normally I wouldn’t pick up a book such as this but after having a brief peruse through, I was taken with the way Anderson expresses himself and his critical self-awareness.
The majority of the book is about the author’s early life which takes place in the poverty of a working-class English suburb. The band only begins to form towards the end of the book so there is plenty of insight into Anderson’s childhood and the way his experiences would go on to inform his lyrics and musical style.
The way this is approached was very effective, with honesty, and a lack of manufactured drama that so many memoirs of this ilk provide. I found it a compelling read due to its simplicity and erudite literary style. Although it is fair to note that as this is a book written for his son to understand his father more, there is little reference to the more showbiz part of the story with all its assorted vices.
Of particular interest were the insights into band dynamics and press speculations, the effects and pressure upon the band that stemmed from this, and how music is viewed by the media. Those hidden and personal inspirations and meanings so often lost as the press attempt to intellectualise lyrics, which arguably adds as much as it takes away from the myth of the songs.
Suede managed to tap into the feelings of the marginalised, and effectively started Britpop, as it was eventually termed, which was raw and free of the idealised version now seen through the media today. Anderson’s grimy portrayal of the working-class and the reality of people’s lives in stark light, created a momentum that resonated with many.
Coal Black Mornings builds to an exhilarating, breathless rush towards the end, as things start to come together, the evolving music and lyrical styles, the different band member changes, and the chronicling of hard fought struggles for a chance to be recognised, which in this day of manufactured bands, will be an eye opener to some.
All in all, this is worth picking up even for those with no knowledge of Suede, or, like me, no clue of most of the other bands mentioned. It was interesting to explore Anderson’s life through his eyes, to get a taste of that time, and read a success story and an interesting one at that. The only niggles I had were the repetition of the words ‘hilarious’ and ‘zeitgeist’ which were mildly annoying, as was the title overdone if understandable use of the title, all of which are no reason not to be absorbed in this enjoyable read.