It's 11 years since Suede first dragged British guitar music out of the introverted male bedroom and on to Top of The Pops, since Brett Anderson's camp posturing terrified us shoegazers and gave British youth the slap on the arse it needed. I loved it with every fibre of my 14-year-old being. A year later, the slowie-heavy debut album they revisited last night first hinted that, while pop was nice enough, they actually took themselves rather more seriously. ICA types, maybe.
But after the even artier Dog Man Star failed to add up to the sum of its parts, they retreated. The next three records, though never wholly awful, were progressively poppier and more anodyne. By 2002's A New Morning the glamorised druggie loneliness in Anderson's lyrics sounded ridiculous against the slick backing.
So it's a little surprising that Suede should play the ICA now. And a little self-indulgent perhaps, to play one of their albums in its entirety each night. But it's also an indulgence to their still-devoted fans. These concerts sold out in minutes.
But we fans have grown up, in a way that the band haven't. Tonight's is an ICA crowd, the target audience of the artwork, exhibition and cult movie screenings being put on in conjunction with these concerts. It's hard to decide if this show is a test of whether Suede can stand up to the scrutiny of the more sophisticated audience or whether that audience can still go for that pop abandon.
There are some fantastic songs on Suede. "Animal Nitrate'' has lost none of its thrill, while "The Next Life's" dream of flogging ice-cream in Worthing is a poignant picture of provincial English frustration. Yep, if I were Suede, I'd want to play the old songs too. Singing lines like "'We are a boy, we are a girl'' from "Moving" is surely more fun than singing "'It's called obsession, can you handle it?''' from A New Morning. Tonight, though, it's hard to believe Brett Anderson ever wrote that line, he is so obviously a boy: a 100 per cent alpha-male, making "Come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you-are-hard-enough'' grimaces between lines. And sniffing. Though his singing has improved immensely it is more than offset by his apparent insouciance. He just seems such a difficult person to like. The aggressiveness suits the swagger of "Metal Mickey'', attacked tonight with reckless energy, but doesn't do much for the tenderness of "Sleeping Pills''.
The latter contains two of the most beautiful seconds of guitar playing of the 90s - the lead into the last chorus, but sung by the petulant oaf Anderson has become, the climax is the epitome of self-indulgence. It belongs back in teenage bedrooms.
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