Sometimes the memory plays tricks. Sometimes you forget. Sometimes, so many years after the event, you find yourself questioning whether it really was one of the greats, or is it just something you've become accustomed to writing down in your all-time lists? There's always something there to remind me. Dark green and glowering from the recesses of my record shelf. But the truth is that I rarely play it at home nowadays: there's always too much new stuff for me to indulge in nostalgia. But a night like tonight is a slap in the face, an unequivocal reminder that you were right all along. Dog Man Star, the second album by Suede, is a work of genius.
Inspired, one assumes, by the recent precedents at the South Bank Centre of Brian Wilson (Pet Sounds), David Bowie (Low) and Arthur Lee (Forever Changes), Brett Anderson, Mat Osman, Simon Gilbert, Richard Oakes and Alex Lee have decided to showcase Suede's five-album career one at a time, with a residency at the ICA (which is decorated, for the week, with Suede ephemera, slide shows, film projections, and props including a Lonely Town tube sign from a video shoot).
It's an interesting experiment, which forces the band to take songs of which they may now be embarrassed, or in some cases ("Black Or Blue") which they have never previously performed, and find some way of putting them across.
With Dog Man Star, there is no cause for embarrassment at all. Ironically the band's lowest-selling record, at the time at least, it is now widely considered their masterpiece. This is even more surprising in light of the lunacy in which it was conceived, the gory details of which will doubtless be revealed in David Barnett's forthcoming official biography, Love And Poison (I shan't spoil any surprises, but I will just mention the words "kitchen knives"). It's a handsome and romantic record, written at a point where Anderson's lyrics had yet to solidify into Suedespeak, and he was still eloquently using the city as a cinematic backdrop to the tragic heroism of his own life ("The snow might fall and write the lines on the silent page/ But you're outside making permanent love to the nuclear age..."). It's a magnificently overblown, egotistical and vain record (in the best possible way), songs like "The Wild Ones" and "Still Life" inflating private dramas to epic scale. Pushing through the crowd, I walk past Justine Frischmann, and it occurs to me that half these songs must be about her. (Last night, they nearly all were).
For Richard Oakes, this experiment also means performing an album of songs which he had no part in creating. Tonight, wearing a cool pinstriped top, threshing his hair around like a Flymo cord, rocking out and loving every second, he's unrecognisable from the shy, curtain-haired 17-year-old who stepped into the departed Bernard Butler's shoes.
Following a pre-ordained track listing also entails following sudden tempo changes in tempo and mood. After the glam boogie of "This Hollywood Life", Anderson, who is looking very Dog Man Star tonight in his open suit and grandad shirt, has to close his eyes and compose himself for the most emotional song of his career, "The 2 Of Us" (which absolutely slays me).
The encores prove that Suede have never lost it to the extent that their detractors might like to allege. This show, this week, and the forthcoming Singles album, ought to re-establish Suede in the imagination as one of the great British bands, and serve as a reminder that this is how to do it. To audiences, to other artists, and - perhaps not least - to Suede themselves.
Jamie Manners, cheeks slashed with blusher, stands in kitten heels, opaque tights, a PVC pencil skirt and an Eighties blouse with puffball shoulders. He stands - yes, Jamie is a "he" - in front of a sign which reads "Florence Ballard Thinks You're A Wanker" (look her up), and announces "All language is fascist, and so am I." The diminutive, harmless-looking Manners is one half of The Vichy Government, a primitive Casiopop/ spoken-word duo whose razor-sharp, fearsomely intelligent, jaw-droppingly provocative lyrics may yet get him killed, or at least earn a punishment beating. (They have had their posters torn down by the SWP, and caused fights with Belfast bouncers.) Even if they can't hear Jamie's words through the sometimes impenetrable Belfast accent, the titles ("Rivers Of Your Blood") and the VG name itself are equally able to cause offence to many. "I quit my job yesterday," he says, "to become a librarian in Stamford Hill, the largest Jewish community in Europe. I'll have to keep the band name quiet." Despite the far-right references, Manners is a nihilist (and probably a closet lefty), using sarcasm as a weapon (not a get-out clause). His targets are indiscriminate: Jamie hates everyone equally. He may invite assassination by berating a culture which "turns scum like Bobby Sands into plasticine saints", but the Shankill native reserves his cruellest words for his "own" people: "Protestants are not sexy... A race devoid of music - 'The Sash', country and western and 'God Save The Queen' do not count... The Jews may have murdered Jesus Christ, but we murdered Oscar Wilde."
The Vichy Government have an album already recorded. It will take a label with balls like spacehoppers to release it. Is there anybody out there?
Suede tour the UK in December. The Vichy Government play Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (0113 275 2411) on 30 OctoberReuse content