Having been hauled over the coals by critics of late, Suede struck back in fine style at this ICA residency. Taking their cue from Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds and forthcoming Smile shows, and, surely, Blur's "best of" tour, the band hit on the grand idea of playing one of their albums each night, with their singles and frequently great B-sides as encores. Tickets sold as fast as the ICA could shift them, and with the venue decked out in Suede-abilia - posters, artwork, video promo props, live footage, films and, in the new media section, rare tracks to listen to - it made for a nifty nostalgia hit and a re-assertion of a great British pop band.
Rabid anticipation centred on the nights devoted to the band's debut album and the mighty Dog Man Star. The former recalled how 1992 saw Suede drag British indie pop into the Nineties by tearing swooning, swaggering glam-rock drama out of everyday hopes, failures and frankly dirty thoughts. The songwriting team of Anderson and his guitarist, Bernard Butler, were tussling with the greats back then. The likes of "Animal Nitrate" and the dreamy "Breakdown" still careered from thrillingly lusty to preeningly decadent on the night, although Anderson's sulkydelivery almost hobbled the show. He gave the impression that he wasn't at all sure about this memory-lane trip.
But the DMS show majestically affirmed the album's lofty standing among Suede-heads. It's a masterwork of metropolitan pop-poetry, on which Anderson's portraits of glamorously wasted city life, suburban dreams, bed-sit brooding and romantic tragedy are at their most fully realised. What's more, it sounded stunning live.
The album received more attention for Butler's shock departure from the band than its brilliance on release, but it is testimony to his replacement, Richard Oakes, that the week peaked post-DMS. The ecstasy-honeymoon air of Suede's third album, Coming Up, ensured that Thursday night was party time. It is a pure pop album, and the band took to it with energetic, punkish muscularity, and finally, Anderson lost his cool, mounting his monitors like a man off the leash and recapturing that moment when Suede swiped Britpop's live crown from all-comers.
By the next two albums, Head Music and A New Morning, Suede's reputation was taking a battering, the argument being that Anderson's lyrics had grown trite and the songs too basic. But subtle shifts in order and arrangement in the shows did both albums proud, with A New Morning taking on a fresh warmth thanks to the band's decision to open the set on its softer, moodier, acoustic songs. "Morning" and "Lonely Girls" proved winning, and the lovely "Lost in TV" moved Anderson to make so merry with his maracas that he knocked his microphone flying.
The new single, "Attitude", is nicely tacky, its stop-start dramatics playing wittily well live. But it feels like an interim sketch rather than progress; in particular, Anderson's lyrics need the hand of a songwriting collaborator who can stretch him. Let's hope this week, and December's Singles tour, serve as battery rechargers rather than the beginning of the end for a classic band.Reuse content