Tuesday 21 November 2017

Music - Britpop revisited: Suede's fine return

Band revitalised: Brett Anderson will share his Night Thoughts, the new album from Suede in Dublin.
Band revitalised: Brett Anderson will share his Night Thoughts, the new album from Suede in Dublin.

There is something wonderfully special about seeing a white hot young band in the first flush of success. When Suede made their Irish concert debut on March 27, 1993, they were the most talked about new British band since the Stone Roses, and those who attended the Tivoli, on Dublin's Francis Street, that night are unlikely to have forgotten the manic intensity of the then quartet's performance.

It's worth remembering just how hyped Suede were in 1992 and 1993. On the strength of just three singles, they were dubbed "the best band in Britain" by Melody Maker, and they had appeared on the cover of 20 magazines before they had released their debut album. That self-titled effort, incidentally, was released the day before the Tivoli gig and it was justly praised as a milestone release.

In fact, Suede would prove to be the fastest selling album in the UK charts since Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome to the Pleasuredome almost a decade before. The strength of those early singles helped whip up a media frenzy, but credit must also go to their publicist, John Best, who pulled every string in the PR book to ensure that Suede were the band on everyone's lips. Best also worked with The Cranberries, then enjoying considerable popularity and what would prove to be short-lived acclaim for their debut Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?

Much of the brilliance of Suede lay in the tension between the hyper-literate frontman Brett Anderson and the marvellous guitarist, Bernard Butler. Comparisons with Morrissey and Marr were lazy, perhaps, but not completely without merit. There was a real sense at the time that both young men were pushing each other to be as good as they could be.

And while grunge was in the ascendancy globally, there was something unashamedly English - and London-centric - about Anderson's preoccupations. On the month their debut album was released, the snake-hipped frontman was on a cover of Select magazine with a union flag providing the backdrop and a sub-headline screaming "Yanks go home!"

It's sometimes cited as the moment Britpop was born and although Suede didn't embody the movement in the public mind in quite the same way Blur and Oasis would, they played a fundamental part. That was made clear in John Harris's absorbing book on Britpop, The Last Party - an account that documented in fantastic detail the breakdown between Anderson and Butler.

Even in the course of making Suede, the pair had been at loggerheads, with Anderson said to be annoyed that producer Ed Buller appeared to see Butler as the key member of the group. And there was acrimony during the making of second album Dog Man Star - a work that was cerebral, overblown, thrilling and maddening, often in the course of the same song. Butler departed before the album had been completed, forever robbing the band of the exuberant frisson that had marked them out from the pack.

And yet, in the then 17-year-old Richard Oakes, Anderson found a gifted replacement for Butler, but the young axeman just didn't have Butler's on-stage presence. Still, Oakes was an important cog on Coming Up, the band's third, and most commercial, album to date - and he plays a big part in the success of the latest album, Night Thoughts, which was released last month.

The Suede of 2016 is a much more exciting prospect than the band who limped from the late 1990s into the early 2000s. After Coming Up, Anderson et al found themselves in a creative pickle, seemingly content to release by-numbers music that sounded like a poor facsimile of what they had done so well just a few years before. So hackneyed was the fare on albums like 2002's A New Morning, that the band were in danger of sullying the memory of their golden years.

Few mourned their decision in 2003 to go their separate ways. There was fleeting excitement when Anderson and Butler reconvened as The Tears, although the resulting album, Here Come the Tears, failed to live up to the sum of their parts. A new generation had little interest in them either, judging by the risibly poor turn out for their late night show in Oxegen in 2005. Twelve years on from being rock's hottest property and they were facing a few hundred people in a vast tent in Kildare. It's a cautionary tale for those feted bands who might think the adulation will last forever.

There was little enthusiasm for Suede's comeback album, Bloodsports, in 2013 - especially as it arrived just days after Anderson's idol, David Bowie, had returned with a new album after a near decade-long hiatus. But Suede's album was the real deal - packed as it was with blistering tunes. The sound of a band revitalised.

(Three years later, by grim coincide, the latest Suede album, Night Thoughts, arrived in the wake of Bowie's death and, consequently, perhaps didn't get the attention it deserved.)

On Wednesday, Anderson and friends will showcase the album at Dublin's Olympia, the venue where they played out of their skins in support of Bloodsports three years ago. Older and wiser, they seem to be living for the moment if recent interviews with Anderson is anything to go by. And good luck to them.

l It's hard to know if Twitter is a fair barometer, but if it is the makers of Rebellion might want to go into hiding. Eipic, TG4's 1916-themed musical drama aimed at teens (it began broadcasting this week), seeks to tell the story in a contemporary setting and employing music from the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Future Islands and FKA Twigs - but performed as Gaeilge by the cast. It's a novel idea and an opportunity to hear some great songs very differently. "With Eipic," says producer Paddy Hayes, "the music is almost like a Trojan horse. You get them in through that and they'll stay."

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