The band's first single "The Drowners" was released amid an alternative media frenzy that began before the band had released any music. The band was on the cover of Melody Maker, which proclaimed them as "the best new band in Britain" prior to an official release. The debut single attracted so much excitement because of its sharp contrast to the dying Madchester scene and the U.S. grunge sound of the time. Suede were further distinguished from their contemporaries by Anderson's flamboyant looks and unique vocals, combined with Butler's melodic guitar playing. Surprisingly, given the amount of press exposure the band had received, "The Drowners" – featuring two B-sides in "My Insatiable One" and "To the Birds" – was only a moderate hit. Two follow-up singles hit the UK Top 20: "Metal Mickey" and "Animal Nitrate".
Some possible factors cited to explain the band's lack of U.S. success are their quasi-androgynous look and distinct British sound, both of which might have alienated North American audiences. Despite this, the band retained a cult following in the U.S., which was evident by their first four studio albums charting on Billboard's Heatseekers charts, and by Sony feeling it was worthwhile to release the double-album Sci-Fi Lullabies in the States. Following the release of their debut album, the band began work on their highly anticipated follow up single and album in late 1993 and much of 1994. The hectic schedule the band was facing hinted the problems that were soon to come. In February of 1994, the band released the single "Stay Together", which garnered critical praise, also became their highest charting at the time, reaching number three. Despite their growing profile, tensions within the band mounted as they began working on the second album. Anderson and Butler fought constantly; a major issue was the production of the album (again done by Ed Buller). Things reached a head when Bernard Butler quit the band in the middle of the recording sessions, leaving behind tapes containing his ideas for the songs that had been written. The remainder of the guitar work on the album was completed by studio musicians or Brett Anderson.
When Dog Man Star (1994) finally appeared, its sales were generally sluggish, though the album was praised by critics. The record was vastly different-sounding than the band's debut. It featured a spacious sound that was fleshed out by strings and a horn section. While Blur's Parklife and Oasis' Definitely Maybe were fighting for pop supremacy, Suede explored darker territory. The vacant guitar chair was soon filled by 17 year-old guitarist Richard Oakes (initially nicknamed by the U.K. music press as "Little Dickie") before an international tour to promote the album. Many critics and fans alike had their doubts about the ability of the band to move on without Butler, who was an integral part of the band's songwriting. The band broadened their sound with a keyboardist and backing vocalist Neil Codling for their third album, Coming Up (1996). The first single from the album, "Trash" was popular and tied with "Stay Together" as the group's highest charting U.K. single, reaching number three, which helped to make the album their biggest mainstream success.
The album was a hit throughout Europe, Asia and Canada, but still not in the U.S. It did, however, answer the critics who questioned whether Anderson and company could produce another hit without Butler. Suede had again changed sound drastically; Coming Up featured more of a glam-tinted pop/rock sound, as opposed to the darker elements of the previous albums. Reviews were again mixed, but the album topped the U.K. chart and became the band's biggest-selling release. The band was finally getting the mass video and radio play that they lacked during the Dog Man Star period and in many ways fulfilling the hype that characterized much of their early career. The album brought the band five straight top-10 singles. The band's next venture was a collection of B-sides and rarities entitled Sci-Fi Lullabies, which reached #9 on the U.K. chart.
The next three singles released from the album failed to crack the top 10, breaking a run stretching back to 1995's "New Generation". The b-sides for the singles were also arguably not up to par with their usual standard, which hinted at the drying up of the creative well. Anderson also began being criticized more by fans for his often use of redundant vocabulary and limited lyrical themes. Despite this, even with their drop in mainstream popularity, the band still maintained a large core group of fans. Not long after the release of Head Music, Nude Records effectively ceased to exist. Like many of their labelmates, Suede ended up signing to Nude's parent company/distributor Sony to record their fifth album, A New Morning (2002). The long and troubled gestation of the album saw keyboardist Neil Codling leave the band, citing chronic fatigue syndrome, to be replaced by long-time band associate Alex Lee, formerly of Strangelove.
In concerts, Lee played second guitar, as well as keyboards, backing vocals and, at one point, harmonica. The album title, according to Anderson, referred to "a fresh start, a new band and a new fresh outlook" – the singer had reportedly been addicted to heroin and crack cocaine for a number of years by this time, which was having an increasingly deleterious effect on his health. He was quoted at the time as saying "we've all cleaned up our drug problems ... which is nice." Despite the rejuvenation of the group's health, the album was a commercial disappointment which failed to crack the top 20, and ultimately was never released in the U.S. Although the group began work with Tony Hoffer producing, the album was produced by "big name" Britpop producers John Leckie (who famously produced The Stone Roses' debut LP, as well as records for Radiohead and Muse) and Stephen Street (most famous for his work with The Smiths and Blur), A New Morning was considered a solid enough outing by fans of the band, but critical reaction was decidedly lukewarm and the mainstream public interest had long disappeared. Only two singles, "Positivity" and "Obsessions," were released from the album, the fewest singles taken from any of the band's albums, and neither charted particularly well.
In Autumn 2003, after the release of their Singles compilation album and accompanying single "Attitude", Suede played five nights at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, dedicating each night to one of their five albums and playing through an entire album a night – with B-sides and rarities as encores – in chronological order. After these shows, the band announced there would be no more projects under the Suede name for the foreseeable future – effectively announcing the end of the band, as they stated on their website: "There will not be a new studio album until the band feel that the moment is artistically right to make one. Their last concert at London's Astoria on December 13, 2003 was a two-and-a-half hour marathon show, split into two parts (plus encore) with the first part being "songs we want to play". Brett made an announcement that "there will be another Suede album" to everyone's delight, but added "...but not yet. "See you in the next life" was their closing remark.
Alex Lee played a short set with former Strangelove band-mate Patrick Duff at the Tsunami Appeal Gig at the Bristol Carling Academy on Saturday 19th February and continued to tour with him. He now plays guitar and keyboard with Placebo. Neil Codling has toured as keyboardist for pop singer Natalie Imbruglia and has played as a duo called Barry O'Niel comprising him and Harriet Cawley and live for Brett Anderson. Gilbert is currently the drummer for international band Futon, based in Bangkok, Thailand while Osman plays for the U.K. rock band Mista Brown and live for Brett Anderson.
Suede's legacy is largely in inspiring the Britpop scene which eventually overshadowed the band's own achievements. Alexis Petridis wrote in 2005, "These days, rock historians tend to depict Suede's success as a kind of amuse bouche before the earth-shattering arrival of Britpop's main course". Thanks to the band's popularity British guitar music was once again brought to the forefront paving the way for the success of Pulp, Blur and Oasis. According to the book The Last Party, Noel Gallagher was said to have written "Some Might Say" in an attempt to create a better anthem than "Animal Nitrate". Recent/current bands inspired by Suede include The Libertines and The Cribs - with both artists having used Bernard Butler to record singles - as well as Pete Doherty's offshoot band Babyshambles, The Vines, The Long Blondes, Placebo, Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand.
All the chart positions are for the UK, except where noted.