Kenneth Smith

A Neo-Riemannian Approach to Suede

As it was conceived, Neo-Riemannian study pertained more to the Romantic tradition of classical music than to pop. But Capuzzo, and more recently Curry and Schultz among others, have proved that this branch of theory helps us to conceptualise some otherwise theoretically awkward chord progressions in certain popular music genres. My model of minor third and major third chord interactions, developed from post-Romantic music, maps the process of energetic storage and discharge of harmonic sequences and proves pliable enough to assist with this repertoire also.

The first two studio albums from Suede, the fruits of the song-writing collaboration of Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson, served as the erotically twisted underside of early 90s Britpop, adding bizarre, seductive alternatives to the relatively normalised sexual experiences described in the songs of Pulp or Blur. Suede's harmonic progressions prove to be extremely dextrous with sinuous voice-leading and abrupt, yet parsimonious, key changes, often based on common-tone modulations rather than dominant to tonic release. Using some of their later songs to demonstrate the chord patterns that were to become recognisable Suede cliches (the bVI-V progressions and the III/bVII/bII dominant substitutes from songs like The Beautiful Ones or Everything Will Flow, providing alternatives to Griffiths’ normative ‘elevating modulation’) I return to examine their earlier work in a new light with readings of Sleeping Pills and Pantomime Horse from Suede.