Anyone who embraces any kind of schlock culture – b-movies, music outside the mainstream, books about unpopular or unusual subjects – knows that it is a lonely road. Most people embrace the status quo when it comes to entertainment and are confused and sometimes annoyed by those who choose to find beauty and excitement in other places. Even those who make gestures toward appreciating schlock often do it under the “guilty pleasure” label, as if to genuflect at the altar of what is acceptable and let anyone watching know it’s just a lark. To embrace schlock without reservation is to brand yourself an outsider in the world of popular culture.
Thankfully, the pride of the outsider is a recurring theme in rock & roll so schlock-loving outsiders have plenty of quality music to console themselves with as they walk down that lonely road. One of Your Humble Reviewer’s favorites is “Trash” by Suede. It’s the kind of song that takes material that could be tragic and transforms it into something exhilarating and life-affirming via a seamless combo of heartfelt lyrics, a gutsy melody and a grandiose arrangement that pushes the melodrama to rapturous heights.
Suede distinguished themselves from the rest of the Britpop pack in the 1990’s through their embrace of English glam-rock influences and they give that aspect of their sound a workout here. David Bowie was obviously a major influence – and that can be heard in Brett Anderson’s vocal stylings here – but the biggest influence on this particular song seems to be the self-mythologizing streak present in classic Mott The Hoople songs. The narrator lays out the many reasons that he and his friends are outcasts in “acceptable” society – their odd and “cheap” looks, the fact that they come from “nowhere towns” and especially the fact that they have a good time pursuing pastimes that respectable folks would find trashy.
However, the put-upon protagonists have an ace up their collective sleeve that makes this seemingly put-upon life bearable: they know who they are and this self-knowledge allows them to do what they do with a passion and a freedom that the judgmental will never know. This point is sold beautifully via a sing-along chorus where the narrator embraces his defamatory label and encourages his fellow outcasts to do the same: “We’re trash, you and me/we’re the litter on the breeze/we’re the lovers on the street/Just trash, me and you/It’s in everything we do.”
The operatic quality of those sentiments is driven home by a stellar arrangement that transforms what might be considered kitschy elements – ragged guitar riffs, retro-spacey synths and Anderson’s theatrical vocals – into a heroic wall of sound, a grand balcony where the narrator (and by extension, the listener) can take shelter from the sneers and petty judgments of the small-minded.
The band dives into their roles with gusto, complete with a grandly distorted guitar-solo break, but the instruments that really carry the day are the keyboards. They give the song its soaring quality, particular when they fly high for ethereal peaks at chorus time that mesh perfectly with Anderson’s rousing vocal flights – the way the high-pitched synths dovetail with his vowel-extending phrasing at the end of “it’s in everything we do” offers the listener a moment of pure rock & roll transcendence.
In short, this is not just a great rock song – it’s a heroic statement of self-knowledge that the schlock fanatic can wear like a suit of armor as they fend off the eye-rolls and cutting comments of the high-minded aesthetes. Being alone in your own situation isn’t so bad when you know that someone someplace else knows how you feel – and “Trash” conveys that feeling to fans of frowned-upon pastimes everywhere. Thus, this song is and will always be a timeless schlock anthem.