On 31st December 2013 at 00:56 Richard Lay wrote...
It was a shame you missed the gig, it was a really special performance.I never really rated Brett as a front man but completely changed my opinion after this set, he was phenomenal.
Earlier this year, two of the finest acts the British music scene has ever known unleashed two of the best albums of the year. One, you will be sick to death of hearing about. The other, you probably knew nothing about. While David Bowie released almost exactly the same (albeit very good) record he did as ten years previously but with at least ten times the hype (befitting I suppose of the ten year wait we'd all had to endure); Suede also released their first record in ten long years to much less fanfare. Yes, that's right. Suede. And yes, Album of the Year. And no, I've not taken leave of my senses. And yes, I have heard loads of fantastic records this year which I bloody love (Chvrches, Jagwar Ma, Foals, Arctic Monkeys etc.). Suede are right up there with the lot of them offering us a record as vital, smart, seedy and wonderful as anything else in 2013.
Suede fascinate me. Or should I say, people's opinions about Suede fascinate me. Because, from various late night setting-the-world-to-rights alcohol-fuelled conversations I've had from the Brudenell to the Library to Shopkeepers, it appears that if you didn't grow up in the nineties, you don't really know they exist. Let alone realise how big, brilliant and important they were. And this is me talking to some of the Leeds' Music Scene's finest musicians and gig goers. So I've decided, this being Christmas and all, I'm going to do my little bit for society. I'm going to redress this embarrassing oversight so we can all pretend it never happened.
Twenty years ago Suede saved indie from a tragic life of shoe gazing and grunge. Thank God. Like most scenes, they both had a few decent bands but there was way too much terribly average dross about. And everyone was bloody miserable. Not good. Weirdly, history has rewritten this proto-Britpop period as being steered by Blur and Pulp. It wasn't. Blur were trying not to get dropped after Modern Life is Rubbish tanked and Pulp had yet to have anything remotely resembling a hit. In 1993 nobody cared about middle class people singing/lying about growing up with woodchip on the walls and going to the dogs to eat chicken in a basket. Suede were offering something much more appealing, ambushing the Top 10 with some great, positive sexually charged cuts, stealing the show at the Brits and sauntering all the way to number one with their self-titled debut. This was their time. When a band is so good even the B sides are vital (http://music.douban.com/review/6311956/). And it wasn't just fiery, indie stompers like "Animal Nitrate". I once played "The Next Life" to a friend and she had to pull over into a lay by so she could have a little weep at the wheel - it's just an unbelievably moving record.
What happened next I don't think anybody could have predicted. When everyone decided they wanted to listen to middle class people singing/lying about growing up with woodchip on the walls and going to the dogs to eat chicken in a basket Suede, perversely, went prog. They made "Dog Man Star". An album so ambitious it tore the Anderson/Butler songwriting partnership apart before it could even be released. If you don't own it, download it immediately. It is exceptional. (At this point I could provide countless links but every single review tells you how great it is so it doesn't really seem necessary). It's one of the finest records of the last 25 years - or the 25 years before that come to think of it. It's sheer scale and scope... I mean really, what band now would attempt such an LP? From the opening bars of "Introducing the Band" it's obvious this is a very special, different beast. "The Asphalt World" stuffs more into it's 9 minutes than Muse have ever mustered (blustered?) in their entire career, while "Still Life" manages to simultaneously be emphatic and empathetic.
Yet it's not all pomp. "The Wild Ones" is delicate and beautiful, as is "Two Of Us". It's a dark ride - of that there is no doubt... but a breathtaking one. That it was released just a year after their debut from a band that split up halfway through making it makes it all the more staggering. "OK Computer" is often, boringly wheeled out as if it's the only great, classic, intelligent rock album of the nineties when, whisper it, it's not even Radiohead's best record of that era ("The Bends" is the more consistent, stronger collection of songs). "Dog Man Star", I would argue, is more accomplished and rewarding than anything in Radiohead's cannon. Yet Suede, mysteriously, remain virtually anonymous with contemporary rock and indie fans. What the hell went wrong?
Suede Mark II (they recruited a new guitarist soon after Bernard Butler had walked out) were - to everyone's surprise - actually quite brilliant. In 1996 Suede effortlessly morphed into an indie Hitsville UK pop factory. "Trash" had anthem stamped all over it and quite rightly shimmied its way into the heart of every indie night in the land. They then followed it up with a string of Top 10 singles and their biggest selling album, "Coming Up". It unfortunately wasn't to last, after a mediocre follow up "Head Music" (which still contained a few gems and landed at number one) and the poor "A New Morning" Suede fell apart with a whimper. Bernard Butler similarly released the phenomenal "Yes" with David McAlmont before deciding, unwisely, to go solo with a couple of bland and forgettable records. Perhaps this downturn in quality explains their reputation (or at least lack of one)? But this should not be allowed to tarnish that glorious early flurry of exceptional material. Whichever way you look at it, when Suede released a comeback album, "Bloodsports", earlier this year the bar wasn't set particularly high. That they have delivered their best set of songs since the mid-nineties comes as a total shock.
Anyway, what the chuff has all this got to do with Leeds? Ah... well, Suede have only gone and released a live album recorded at the O2 in our fine city. Back in the day they were a cracking, thrilling and volatile live act (if you buy the "Suede" first album reissue you get the wonderful "Love and Poison" live film on DVD as a bonus)... but can they really still cut it after all this time? Especially as live albums are almost always a bit flat regardless of how good the gig was. It's a bit like buying stand up comedy DVDs. They just don't quite work. Personally I was gutted to miss this gig - a sickness bug got the better of me - so I listen with mixed emotions. As a representation of Suede's ability to still ignite a crowd and raise a venue to the ground it packs a proper punch. It's a great band performance and apparently we're "the nicest smelling moshpit" Brett Anderson has ever experienced (ooh... you charmer!), but for me the set list isn't their strongest deck of cards and too many old favourites are missing. It's a new album tour, rather than a greatest hits package. Thus it remains simply a very good collectors item for the fans rather than a must have addition to your record collection.
However, let this not distract from the point. Suede are one of the finest acts this nation has ever produced yet perversely there's a worryingly high chance that they're the greatest band you don't know. And that would be a tragedy.