Did drugs break up the songwriting team in the most exciting new band in Britain?
Did drugs break up the songwriting team in the most exciting new band in Britain? That perennial pop teaser is about The Libertines now, of course, but it was about Suede 10 years ago, whose guitarist, Bernard Butler, left the band just as they were finishing their best-loved album, the gloriously grandiose Dog Man Star. According to David Barnett's Suede biography, Love and Poison, Butler grew sick of the band's rampant drug-taking and chafed fiercely with them during the making of DMS. He decided to split the band up, but his co-writer, Suede's vocalist, had other ideas: Brett Anderson simply recruited another guitarist.
Still, as Suede's fortunes slipped, largely due to a 2002 comeback album, A New Morning, on which their pop classicism and louche romanticism started to stiffen up, Anderson and Butler seemed to court and circle each other tentatively in their separate interviews. Thankfully, after announcing Suede's split prior to a greatest-hits tour last December, culminating in an electric show at London's Astoria, Anderson did the inevitable: with his crack habit behind him, he began writing with Butler again.
So, will the rest will be history? Not to the degree that Suede were in 1993, sure, but it's hard to care about that when, at the debut London show for Anderson and Butler's new band, the chemistry between them is so exciting. They look like they were born to be on a stage together, Anderson bashing nonchalantly at a tambourine while a brash Butler mounts the monitors, thrashing at his guitar as if his whole body were plugged into it.
Musically, they seem to be plugged right into each other. On song after song, Anderson's vocal rides the melody of Butler's guitar lines smoothly, t grand effect on the very Suede-like romanticism of the set's centrepiece song, "Apollo 13". Many of the lyrics, too, play like love songs between the two of them, particularly "The Ghost of You", on which Anderson croons, "I tried to move on/ But the ghost of you stays."
When Anderson broke Suede up, he issued an opaque statement about needing to regain his "demon". The kick of creative confidence that fuels this defiantly nostalgia-free set of entirely new songs - Anderson gives an audience request for Suede's "The Drowners" short shrift - explains what he meant. Like Suede's first post-Butler album, Coming Up, it sees Anderson finding his way with an easy melody again, each song thwacking you with suave hooks, loping melodies and affecting lyrics. Every track sounds utterly, effortlessly fresh, an impression enhanced as Butler's formidable playing makes them crackle with life.
There's some sadness attached to the question of what might have happened had Anderson and Butler stayed together 10 years ago, but their songwriting excels at that kind of fateful romanticism anyway. It resulted in a great break-up album with DMS, and it now sounds like it's resulted in a great make-up album. The most exciting new band in Britain, twice? Now that would be a coup.