Of all the bands that were unfairly shackled to the genre of Britpop in the mid-1990s by the then unimaginative British music press, Suede is perhaps the only band...
Suede : Live
Suede : Live

“He’s reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac” – Blur, “Country House”

Of all the bands that were unfairly shackled to the genre of Britpop in the mid-1990s by the then unimaginative British music press, Suede is perhaps the only band that have retained any semblance of their original dynamic and more importantly their artistic credibility. The other major players in that short lived and mostly forgettable era were Oasis, who have remained dormant for years whilst the Gallagher brothers have been more infamous for their ongoing spats and rows than the quality of their respective solo outputs. Pulp’s demise was less dramatic and acrimonious than that of Oasis’, and apart from a brief reformation in 2011, and again this year the band and their frontman Jarvis Cocker have been relatively quiet. Conversely Blur, or more specifically Damon Albarn, has been involved with a plethora of side projects including Gorillaz, The Good the Bad and the Queen, and his solo output, which has seemed to align itself with whichever world music style was trending at the time he was recording. The immediate concern for Messrs Coxon, Rowntree and James is that even Blur themselves are beginning to appear to be an Albarn side project rather than his musical centroid.

The over-riding aesthetic of the aforementioned movement was one of boorish behaviour exemplified by heavy drinking and a sexist attitude, epitomised by the popularity of the “lad mags” such as Loaded, all wrapped up in a dress code as worn by English football hooligans in the 1980s. Suede took a different journey, and although superficially they weren’t caught up in Britpop’s hedonistic excess, they weren’t immune to all the accompanying trauma’s that are prevalent in a working Rock band. The moments of anguish, despair and ultimately disintegration were well captured in the double 2018 release, comprising the film The Insatiable Ones and Brett Anderson’s autobiography Coal Black mornings, and its subsequent 2019 companion Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn. Whereas other musical movements throughout history have been keen to emphasize their intellect, with Burroughs, Kafka and Kerouac all being points of reference, the Britpop hordes were keen to vilify and decry any display of cerebral growth. Blur themselves were and are a well-read intelligent group, but such was their desire to immerse themselves in the menagerie of the genre that they continued to dumb themselves down. The line quoted above from their “Country House” song was either the need to find a word that rhymed with the prescription drug of choice of that era, or a perceptive Balzacian homage relating to the new realism of Britpop as opposed to Suede’s doomed romanticism which was much more aligned to Baudelaire and Rimbaud.

Suede’s current jaunt around the halls of the United Kingdom is not a rehashed greatest hits tour but a vehicle for showcasing last year’s Autofiction (QRO review), their ninth album in total and their fourth since their resurrection. The new album has the quintessential suede sound containing all the expected swagger and panache but with a bleaker sensibility akin to a post-punk dynamic. The album doesn’t give up its treasures easily, and needs repeated visits to gain a true perspective on the work as opposed to the immediate kick received when first listening to their 1999 release Head Music.

At precisely 8.30 p.m. on Friday, March 10th, at Rock City in a snow-covered Nottingham, Suede contrarily began their set with “Turn Off Your Brain and Yell”, the final track of the Autofiction album and were welcomed with the love and adoration that has always existed between the band and their loyal devotees. The track is an atypical Suede album closing number, with its explosive primality in contrast to “The Next Life” from the first album, which is racked with sentimentality and despair. During the evening’s performance a major proportion of Autofiction was played but after three of those songs, they hit with a trio of definitive Suede masterpieces, namely, “The Drowners”, “Animal Nitrate” and “Trash”, which was the only piece performed from their bestselling Head Music.

‘Performance’ is certainly the inappropriate designation based on Anderson’s immersion in his art, in which he seemed to be hell bent on purging and exorcising his demons. The energy and rage expelled during the 90-minute set was certainly no act or posture, more akin to the process of offloading unwanted memories and indiscretions. The only interludes from this purification process were “This Time”, which he sang with the sole accompaniment of Neil Codling on piano, and “The Wild Ones”, which he performed alone with just an acoustic guitar for company. The set ended with “So Young” and” Metal Mickey” before they returned for a brief one song encore of “Beautiful Ones”, which left themselves and the adoring crowd in a state of stunned wonder yet totally at one and rejuvenated via the connection between the two.

It’s almost 30 years since the musical movement that Suede emerged from, and the remnants and debris are still visible to this day, but Suede have shed so many skins during that time and they have emerged into a more cohesive and stronger band producing their work to an artistic apogee that none of their contemporaries could even remotely envisage.

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