SUEDE London Alexandra Palace 30 March 2013
This is how comebacks are made. We've all seen a lot of them by now, some good – some not so : where albums are excuses to tour, made of tired repetitions of past glories but not so convincing, and designed to populate setlists with boring moments whilst most of the audience wait for the hits. Few bands, after their first 10 or 15 years, keep in the public eye so fervently, but become part of the furniture,part of the noise of life. But this – this is the best comeback there is. On the back of their new – stunningly good – record, Suede eschew the usual bollocks, and open their second biggest non-Festival headline show with three belters from their new album that isn't even two weeks old. And they are received in raptures and waves.
It could have gone so wrong : Alexandra Palace has a cruel reputation, for pisspoor organisation, for broken queuing systems, beer tokens, pointless flow and one way systems, for generally being about as well organised as a school dinner party or a drunken night out, for sounding like a dustbin filled with fireworks on a good night, tonight though (aside from a laughable dearth of available female toilets and queues into the main arena for the ladies), the Palace manages somehow to acquit itself as a better venue than I have ever previously experienced.
After a capable support from Spector – who manage to sound like the bastard lovechild of Pulp and the Killers with mild dilution, the night is set for the most improbable comeback of the 90's, from the band that was written off by bandwagon chasers and popular media when, I dread to confess, Limp Bizkit took control of the front covers and the world turned away from ambition, from beauty, from ideas, in favour of bland, boring, boneheaded, bullshit and balderdash.
Opening with “Barriers” from the new record, Suede – Brett Anderson and his solid cohorts that have had a largely stable lineup for the past 2 decades (only one member has left for non-health related reasons since 1991) – have, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, returned with their sixth album and material that sounds both utterly of the here and now, and like they have never been away. Followed up with “Snowblind” and “It Starts And Ends With You”, the band wrestle us by the neck and make clear that they are no nostalgia act, no backwards glance, no touring indie museum for our amusement, but once again, clearly, and utterly, - and even if only to themselves – a valid and vital musical force. Then again, what have they got left to prove? Suede are one of Britains finest current exports, and unlike many bands, still making material 20 years in that is as good as they ever were, which is proof enough. Some bands would drop in apologetically a song from the new album after we've been warmed up with several old hits. Not here. Suede race out of the gates with the new stuff and the kind of hopeless self-belief that made them what they are.
For the great tragedy of Suede is that many people still cannot see beyond the fact that the band had a guitarist who left in 1994, and thus, no matter how good Suede have been since then, it's still never as good as it was. Which is complete bunkum. Whilst many of us of a certain age still see Richard Oakes as the 17 year old he was when he joined the band in 1994, he is, to my ears, the man who saved Suede, and for this, was denigrated as talentless clone, whereas it is really the same as when Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd and was replaced by David Gilmour : two different guitarists of differing styles, both very talented in very different ways. But when Oakes peels out the roar of feedback and “Metal Mickey” - or “Trash” or “Barriers” explode – around your ears, how anyone can think of Suede as 'past it' surprises me. We may be, on the outside, a little fatter or balder, or a little older and a lot wiser, but this is still just what it was like back then, but with more – and better – songs.
Even on the new songs, such as “Hit Me”, Anderson is buried to the chest in the crowd, leading a singalong of a chorus that two weeks earlier was largely unknown, a pied piper of pop, an aged actor taking us all to his dark world of gay animal sex and unrequited love. These days, the drugs and the dressings of fame matter not : all that seems to matter is communication between artist and listener. Does it connect? Does it make sense? Before long, though, this makes sense, unless like other reformations – hasty excuses to pad out pension plans and make money by performing bad cover versions of 20 year old songs – Suede have achieved that rarest of things, a comeback that does not seem like a comeback, but a continuation : a deserved next chapter made by a band that no longer wants to for the lure of filthy lucre, but does so, because it wants to, and because artistically it seems right. Sure, there's money in it – who works for free? - but money is not all there is in this. If there was, the summer would be chock full of festival shows and a 100 date world tour. This is not just about that, but also, about taking back a legacy unfairly besmirched by time and the lies of popular narrative. When the drums kick in, and Anderson serenades the crowd about jumping over barriers – shortly before doing so himself – and the band creates a maelstrom of guitars, it doesn't matter if this music is 20 years old, or came out last week. It connects. And, more than that, the new songs are those that sound the same yet different – older now, and a clever swine – but the same soul with memories – you know where you came from, you know where you are going, and you know where you belong. Never more than a few minutes away from a great old song or a great new one, this one of those nights. A hungry band, not on tour autopilot, but vicious and sharp and hungry and with the knowledge of the last throw of the dice they might yet win.
Quiet now : for the ending salvo, of “Can't Get Enough”, “Everything Will Flow”, “”So Young”, “Metal Mickey”, Trash”, “Beautiful Ones” are enough to deliver, and cement, Suede's place in the world as a band that cruelly suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous unfashionability whilst still remaining gobsmackingly brilliant. These bedsit dramas of love, loss, and of defiance ; being true to yourself and not everyone else were bedsit hymns for a new generation.
Time is the bell that rings. Who would've thought that, 20 years to the day after the release of their debut, Suede – who imploded in late 2003 – would be back in the fray, with a new album amongst their best, and live shows still as glorious as ever? No longer out of time, merely, timeless.
it starts and ends with you
we are the pigs
sometimes I feel like im floating away
killing of a flashboy
the wild ones
can't get enough
everything will flow
for the strangers