Datum: Montag, 18. November 2013
Zeiten: 20:00 (Einlass: 19:00)
+ Teleman + Mark Fernyhough
“Listening back to the last two records,” says Mat Osman, “there was always something in my mind which was ‘what would have happened if, after ‘Coming Up’, we’d done another record with Ed [Buller, producer of Suede’s first three albums]?’ There was almost like a Sliding Doors thing with this record. There was part of it that was ‘where would we have gone?’”
No other band have been so perfectly placed to rewrite their own history than Suede in 2013. More than any other reunion act this century, their shows since reforming in March 2010 to play a ‘one-off’ set at the Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust have captured the original vibrancy, edge and excitement of Britpop’s prime pioneers. As the Trash Tribes swarmed in their thousands to celebrate the return of Suede’s relentlessly thrilling canon in devoted and ecstatic fashion, the band bristled with energy, attitude, style and bravado, clearly overjoyed to be back on a stage together and revelling in their twisted, suave pop hits. Their “physical, sweaty” 100 Club warm-up show – the first Suede gig in seven years – was a point blank blast of dark diamante. The Albert Hall gig saw them eschew the “obvious” big string thing – “onstage we kept it really tight and small and it turns it into something physical rather than something mental” – and realise halfway through the set that they were going to have to cast aside this crazy ‘one-gig-only’ idea.
“We did the show and loved it so much we couldn’t let it go,” Brett Anderson explains. “It was done with quite good intentions, we were genuinely going to do that one show and leave it. We thought it’d be this really beautiful, elegant way of finishing Suede.”
“Then halfway through that show,” Mat adds, “there was just something about being onstage with the band and the crowd there and the reaction of it, part of me was like ‘it would be stupid not to do that again!’.”
So they did it again, bigger and better than ever. By the end of their subsequent arena tour of Europe, climaxing in a magnificent and celebratory show at London’s 20,000 capacity O2 Arena, their biggest ever gig, Suede had re-ascended beyond the peak of their mid-90s popularity. Over 2011 and 2012 they’d perform consummate headline sets at Latitude, Hop Farm and festivals across the continent, finally reaching the world-beating status they’d shunned in the 90s.
“We just never played those things at the time,” Brett says. “We always wanted to underplay it. We did a series of shows at the Roundhouse when we could’ve easily done Wembley, but we never wanted to do those big places. We did it this time round because it was something different I suppose, more than anything else. It wasn’t so much an ego thing.”
“Partly it was that 90s dick-waving thing that happened when the whole Britpop thing became about who’s biggest,” Mat says. “At the time we found something really quite uncool about doing a Wembley, which we were offered. This time round you’re not in any kind of competition, and as I really wanted to try to play a big show.”
“It felt good as well, in terms of being able to broadcast to a big venue,” says Brett. “It felt as though we could do it.”
As was re-established by their three-night stints at London’s Brixton Academy and Dublin’s Olympia in May 2011, playing their first three albums ‘Suede’, ‘Dog Man Star’ and ‘Coming Up’ in their entirety, however, Suede were always an albums band. 2010’s comprehensive two-disc compilation album ‘The Best Of Suede’ and the re-mastered double-disc re-issues of all five albums in 2011 served as dazzling reminders of Suede’s grimy/glamorous legacy – the narcotic night music of 1993’s Mercury Prize-winning debut ‘Suede’, the epic noir majesty of 1994’s seminal ‘Dog Man Star’ and the sparkling pop of the post-Bernard Butler Number One smash ‘Coming Up’ and its five Top Ten singles. But finding that playing together as a five-piece again “was like those eight years had just disappeared” and sensing a chance to rectify a fumbled legacy, Suede would have to try concocting a sixth album. “Playing ‘Animal Nitrite’, it’s like ‘so what, can you make a new record, can you actually do it?’” Brett says. “That’s the big question.”
The answer is called ‘Bloodsports’. It is an album about lust, love, obsession, dislocation, cruelty, carefree abandonment, aniseed kisses and the gore-strewn battlefield of romance. It is Suede’s sixth album, but it’s brilliant enough to have been their fourth.
And so it should be, considering the agonies they put into it. Described by Anderson as “possibly the hardest we’ve ever made, but also the most satisfying”, over fifty songs were written for the album since the end of 2011, most mercilessly rejected on the basis that they’d rather release nothing at all than a record that wasn’t worthy of their name.
“We’d been apart for ten years and it was almost like a new band starting,” Anderson explains. “We were trying to get on the same wavelengths as writers and having to make mistakes to find out where we didn’t want to go so we knew where we wanted to go. The first incarnation of the album that we wrote was very different from how it ended up. It was a bit more post-punky, a bit more angular but not really us. We played this gig in Russia where we played a whole load of songs and it made us look at what we were doing and we decided it wasn’t really Suede so we ripped it up and started again.
“It struck us that if you come back after a ten year gap of not making records you can’t really reinvent yourselves musically, it just doesn’t make any sense to do that. There’s a really tricky balancing act between it sounding fresh but also it still sounding like you. Finding that sweet spot between those two things was really hard. It’s so hard to simultaneously find that magic that you had previously but not to be self-parody. We had to have an incredibly high standard of control with it. Ratio of songs written to songs that appear on the album is pretty high. Higher than we’ve ever done.”
“We were rejecting one thing saying ‘nah, that could be straight off ‘Coming Up’’ and then rejecting the next thing saying ‘it just doesn’t sound like a Suede record’,” Mat adds. “A lot of bands that come back together, they go and record the first ten things that they write after they come back and they forget that you write a lot of shit when you first start. Even by the time we’d got to Russia we’d discarded a ton of stuff. It wasn’t that we wrote an album and changed our minds, it was a constant process of learning to be Suede again.”
The arrival of Ed Buller early in 2012 saw him “kill a few more of our babies” but find a solid sonic basis for Suede’s big comeback. “Ed was really instrumental in how this record sounds,” says Brett. “We had a slightly different version of what we thought Suede was but generally he wanted this album to be a classic Suede record. I clashed with him quite a lot, every time he rejected a song it was really painful for me and there were lots of painful moments because he rejected lots of songs. I didn’t agree with every single decision on it but looking back on the whole thing I’m really glad he did. He really pushed us and that’s what you need sometimes.”
Over sessions at SARM Studios in West London and IPC in Brussels, ‘Bloodsports’ slowly cohered around a central narrative thread inspired by Alain de Botton’s book Essays In Love. “It was conceived as the story of a very turbulent relationship from start to finish,” Brett says. “Initially the first song was supposed to be about meeting someone and developing an infatuation and it goes through the phases of a relationship and finally ends with splitting up. Inevitably you start off with a very structured idea and that becomes compromised because you’ve got to make a record and a record is musical and not completely theoretical.”
So instead, ‘Bloodsports’ opens with ‘Barriers’, the propulsive synth sensation given away as a free download in January as a delicious taster of the album (“that’s one of the beautiful things about the internet,” Brett says, “the immediacy is really exciting”). In the grand tradition of ‘Beautiful Ones’, ‘So Young’ and ‘The Wild Ones’, ‘Barriers’ – “one of those stones that you build the record around,” according to Mat – celebrates the freedom of non-conformity, the smashing of romantic boundaries, the rush of living outside the rules.
“I saw this imagery of a load of teenagers jumping the barriers at a tube station and I quite liked that rebellious, riotous feel,” Brett grins. “Fuck it, smash it up, there’s something like a love riot, that’s what we did in that relationship.”
After this reflective reintroduction to Suede at their peak, the album’s tainted love story kicks off in earnest. The ‘Trash’-like ‘Snowblind’ tells of the first blinding blaze of infatuation (“I’m aware of the parallel meaning of it,” says Brett, “but the song’s not about cocaine”), but things go swiftly awry. With the sultry and seductive pop of first single ‘It Starts And Ends With You’ the cracks are starting to show; the “sweet disaster” of love is making our desperate, puppet-like protagonist “fall to the floor like my strings are cut”, infatuation shifts to a dark dependency. “There was a time I was going to call the album ‘It Starts And Ends With You’,” says Brett, “because it sums up perfectly the idea of the album, from start to finish, it’s the wheel of life almost, turning and turning.”
The delectably deviant ‘Sabotage’, hovering between classic Suede pop noir and the contemporary graveyard rock of The Horrors or White Lies, is the only song that survived from the seven tracks premiered in Russia in December 2011. It introduces some real cruelty into a relationship now resembling an emotional execution: “I climb to the scaffold smiling… I smile as the rope cuts through me… Our love is sabotage”. “It’s starting to get nasty,” Brett agrees. “I almost have this image of some sort of situation where someone took a secret to the grave to protect someone else. In my head it’s set in this Second World War spy thing, that’s my mental landscape for that song.”
A first half of emboldened 21st Century Suede panache is rounded off with the “old school” louche ballad ‘For The Strangers’ (another potential album title since “it was for the audience, the people you don’t know”), concerning how simple a complex relationship appears from the outside, after which ‘Bloodsports’ takes off in more adventurous directions.
“I wanted the first half to be quite relentless,” says Brett. “Even ‘Sabotage’, which takes it down, it’s quite pounding. I wanted the first half to be ‘another one, another one, another one’ and then the second half to take it into a different landscape.”
“It’s almost like the live show,” says Mat. “We used to start with three fast songs and then go to a ballad; over the years that stretched and stretched and stretched until it was six or seven. So it’s supposed to be like going to see us live, this physical thing, you don’t really get to catch your breath or stop and be thoughtful until quite a long way in. So you have this big long physical section and then this much shorter, much more thoughtful end-point.”
So ‘Hit Me’ imbues knocked-flat infatuation with urgent slink rock vitality and violent undertones – “it fits in with the whole concept of ‘Bloodsports’, or a relationship as a battle,” says Brett. Then the album takes a darker hue as the relationship dissolves. An aching, amorphous surf-soul torch song about co-dependency and the resentfulness it breeds, ‘Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away’ talks of bodies “split wide open” and wills signed “one stab at a time”; a stately modern update of ‘Sleeping Pills’, it’s the sound of a cold bed drifting off into a desolate dawn. Then the icy piano-and-vocal paean ‘What Are You Not Telling Me?’ is even more dislocated, its misty atmospheres nodding to Lanterns On The Lake, Chairlift and The Xx as Brett wails wonderfully of “suspicion, the phone ringing, picking it up and there’s no-one there, all of those sorts of things. It was written very much as a piece in an album rather than to be taken on its own merits, it’s not really supposed to be a song that you listen to separately from the journey of the album. I’ve always wanted to make albums rather than just collections of songs and this is a real key piece of that jigsaw.”
Such stretching of the Suede oeuvre continues on elegiac stalker anthem ‘Always’, introduced with the sound of an Eastern cimbalom and drenched in urbane grandeur and electronically warped vocals of dangerous obsession in the face of a brutal break-up: “say it’s over to my face… I set my clock for seven thirty every day and wait for you… I will always be near, like a sniper in the wings”. “My favourite thing about that track is the people that don’t really listen, there’s gonna be people who find it quite romantic,” Mat laughs. “I can totally imagine people saying ‘this is our song’, not knowing that it’s a threat rather than a promise. It’s literally like being at the window.”
The bloodsport ends, inevitably, in wreckage. Final track ‘Faultlines’ builds from a broken synth-string ballad into a redemptive, rousing finale as our hero finds “the promise of a new day” in the cracks of his shattered life: “celebrate the pale dawn, celebrate the birdsong, celebrate, there is no fear now”. It concludes an album that doesn’t just find one of British music’s most pivotal and prized bands rejuvenated and punching at their peak creative weight, but exploring fresh sonic avenues, discovering what this brand new alternate-universe Suede might be capable of.
And though their March 30 mega-gig at Alexandra Palace is the only future event in the Suede diary at present (“We’re really not good at doing more than one thing at a time,” Mat admits), the 40-odd remaining songs that didn’t fit in with the ‘Bloodsports’ concept might well cohere into further albums.
“We’ll have to wait and see how the dust settles and how we feel about this,” says Anderson, “but I feel as though Suede now has got creative juices in the tanks.” “We took a wrong turn after ‘Coming Up’,” Mat adds, “and this is a direction the band could’ve gone if we weren’t so contrary. There’s a directness to ‘Bloodsports’ that we’d been lacking, something that we gained when we did ‘Coming Up’ that we immediately threw away. This feels almost like you retrace your path to go on.”
The sliding door slides shut; this time Suede: The New Generation, have made it on board, racing off on a whole new subterranean journey. Jump the barriers, join the joyride.