Pop Live: Suede Barrowlands, Glasgow

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The Independent Culture
I'm certain it was him, loitering on the steps, asking "Tickets, please" of anyone who approached him: that bowl of hair, those sorrowful eyes, that matchstick frame, all seemed unmistakable. Could Bernard Butler really have been reduced to the indignity of doing front of house for his old band?

I doubt it. Suede have gone to great lengths to eradicate all memory of their former guitarist. On Tuesday, you'd really have had to be paying attention to even notice Butler's contribution to Suede's oeuvre. Only five of the songs played were co-written by him. Which is another way of saying: that was the old Suede, this is the new one. Totally different. New songs, new faces and everything. Got it?

There are five members now. But on the latest album Coming Up, the music sounds less grand than it did on the epic Dog Man Star. And less ambitious. Suede don't sound like they could take on the world anymore. They don't sound like they want to. They've surgically removed the "m" from pomp. Which is a good thing. Sort of.

It's not as if there's a Jungle element to their music now - the new songs are archetypal Suede, from the lolling "Europe is Our Playground", on which Richard Oakes's woozy guitar sounded like it had just woken up, to "The Beautiful Ones", where it might have been partying until dawn. Then there was "Saturday Night", where it had clearly been in its bedroom learning the chords to Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight", of all things.

The singer Brett Anderson still struts about in your dad's shirt and your kid brother's body. But he has a new coarseness. No longer the bisexual who's never had a homosexual experience, his brash swagger and matey asides hint at a labourer who's never had a bricklaying experience. Lyrically, he continues to commute between glum suburban hellholes and the cheap thrills sought to escape them, which is something like the quest that drives people to Suede in the first place, I suppose.

The libidinous thrust of the old Suede has all but gone, leaving celebrations of grubby adolescent sex like "Animal Nitrate" sounding almost anachronistic. But that's fine. Because right now, the band have all the adolescent sex appeal they need in the form of their newest member, 21-year-old Neil Codling. His unveiling at a secret gig earlier this year prompted several questions. Like: has he got any brothers? And has Brett finally chalked up that homosexual experience? But Neil isn't just there for our titillation. He does keyboards, backing vocals and professional arrogance. Thanks to him, and 19-year-old Oakes, "So Young" now sounds brazenly self-referential when played tonight. Youth isn't everything. But it may be part of the reason why Suede have put away adult things and are, musically speaking, pulling on their short trousers and polishing up their slingshots. They're back, brighter, if not bigger, than ever. Lock up your sons.

RYAN GILBEY

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