It’s great when an innovative and much loved British artist comes out of hibernation after ten years of silence with a great new album. But that’s enough about David Bowie, let’s talk about Suede…
Suede have quietly managed their own comeback this year – and, like Bowie, have produced a great new comeback album with “Bloodsports“.
Suede celebrated the release of the new album last night with an in-store appearance at Rough Trade East, playing an hour long set showcasing the new tunes. (And some old ones too).
I imagine we are all pretty familiar with Suede, but just in case, here’s a potted history to save you the trouble of looking it up on Wikipedia:
- 1989: Brett Anderson and Justine Frischmann meet while studying at University College London. Place an advert for a guitarist in NME: “No Musos. Some things are more important than ability” it states. Bernard Butler auditions and joins the group. They call themselves Suede.
- 1991: Anderson and Frischmann break up. Frischmann starts dating Damon Albarn. Frischmann leaves and forms Elastica. Eastenders writers dismiss stealing the idea for a future plot-line on the grounds that a love triangle between three of the UK’s most successful bands is too far fetched.
- 1992: Suede get a record contract after their manager Ricky Gervais (yes, him) hands Saul Galphern of Nude Records a demo tape. It does not include a version of “Freelove Freeway”. Nude pay c £3k. Melody Maker feature Suede on the cover, with the headline “Suede: The Best New Band in Britain”. They release singles The Drowners and Metal Mickey.
- Feb 1993: Third single, “Animal Nitrate”, hits UK top ten. Suede play Brit Awards ceremony. The album Suede enters the British charts at number one, faster than you can invent the word “Britpop“
- April 1993: Appear on front cover of Select, which starts the “Britpop” phenomenon. Suede go on to win the 1993 Mercury Prize. A lounge singer’s lawsuit means the band have to use the name “The London Suede” in America.
- 1994: Butler leaves during recording of Dog Man Star. 17 year old Richard Oakes replaces him. Dog Man Star goes to #3.
- 1995: Butler forms McAlmont and Butler. Gorgeous single “Yes” reaches top 10, but band fizzles out.
- 1996 Coming Up becomes Suede’s biggest #1 hit album. Third single “Saturday Night” features a young Keeley Hawes (of Ashes to Ashes fame) going up Piccadilly Line escalators in the video.
- 1999: Head Music also goes to #1 in the UK.
- 2003: Band split after “A New Morning” disappoints.
- 2013: Suede return with the release of “Bloodsports“.
Although their thunder was later somewhat stolen by the likes of Blur and Oasis, it was really Suede who saved Britain from Grunge, which had swamped the UK in the early nineties but which had little to do with the day to day experiences of Britain’s youth.
Blur’s Damon Albarn said in 1993, “If punk was about getting rid of hippies, then I’m getting rid of grunge. It’s the same sort of feeling: people should smarten up, be a bit more energetic. They’re walking around like hippies again – they’re stooped, they’ve got greasy hair, there’s no difference. Whether they like it or not, they’re listening to Black Sabbath again. It irritates me.”
Suede’s first albums received the sort of acclaim which perhaps more than anything kicked off the Britpop movement. The records were slightly arty and very British.
Noel Gallagher of Oasis summed up his feelings about his rivals at the time like this: “I think a lot of kids find Suede too intellectual, and with Blur they don’t understand all that stuff about sugary tea, but with Oasis…you just get up and play it”.
Suede’s front man Brett Anderson had a simple response to this in 1996: “It’s very easy for bands now to follow our blueprint but when we started we were trying to play songs about twisted English lives to rooms full of people obsessed with Pearl Jam. We kicked the f- door in! I wouldn’t say we started Britpop because The Beatles, Bowie and The Kinks did that. But I think we were crucial in opening people’s ears to British music again.”
But that was then, and this is now. They may have blazed a trail back in the day, but the real question is: Are they any good now? The timing of the release of their comeback single was unfortunate, in that it was overshadowed by Bowie’s own unexpected comeback on the same weekend. But the song, “It Starts And Ends With You” was very promising. And a listen to Bloodsports happily shows this was no fluke. Ten songs that all sound like classic Suede.
Opener “Barriers” has the sort of anthemic chorus that makes you want to upgrade your record player so the full glory of it can wash over you. Then, as you play the next track “Snowblind” you realise it too has a similar effect and as “It Starts And Ends With You” kicks off you begin to realise that this is a serious return to form. Lyrically, Anderson is back to his louche best without straying into cliché and…well – I don’t do album reviews because I end up sounding like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
Just buy the record – it’s really very good indeed. As in: so much better than you think it will be, even if you are a ridiculous optimist.
Which brings us neatly to last night’s performance at Rough Trade East. I was massively impressed. Any doubts I may have had about the reunion were absolutely smashed in the time it took for Suede to play ten songs last night. The 2013 version of Suede are still hungry. The 2013 Suede still give a damn. The 2013 Suede still have that unique “Suede” sound. Perhaps, in these gloomy and recessionary times (say it quietly) Suede matter. They pulled the country out of the gloom once before. Are they here to save us all again?
Brett Anderson is still a genuinely compelling star performer, backed by an excellent band who all looked enthused to be there. The new songs sounded every bit as good as older classics – to the point where a friend had to check whether Hit Me was a new one or an old one. The occasion of an in-store appearance and album signing might have been an opportunity for Suede to put their feet up and fax in a performance to a crowd of already devoted fans. That didn’t happen last night. They slayed the crowd. It might have been a gig in a record shop, but it felt like it was in a club. Suede are touring the UK this month – on this evidence you’d be a fool not to see them.
Suede’s set list at Rough Trade East March 22nd 2013:
- It Starts And Ends With You
- Metal Mickey
- Animal Nitrate
- Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away
- Hit Me
- Beautiful Ones
Record #167 : Suede – It Starts And Ends With You
Suede’s new album Bloodsports is out now.
Further reading: The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and The Demise of English Rock by John Harris