Nostalgia is still a strong seller in this day and age. Why else would several thousand apply for tickets to see three members of the original Guns N’ Roses perform together without the other two? Why have men in bucket hats bought headed in droves for The Stone Roses’ summer run of concerts at Manchester, despite the fact that this is a band who have not released an album in over two decades? Why did Busted re-emerge? S Club 7? The Bay City Rollers?
|Brett Anderson of Suede, live at Glastonbury 2015. Courtesy of Tumblr.|
There’s a collective sigh when a band reunites as it seems to signal a paycheque cash-in on rose-tinted memories with little of the creative juices still flowing. But not now for Suede, who with their second reunion album Night Thoughts, have found a record that sits shoulder to shoulder with their superb self-titled debut and magnum opus Dog Man Star. A concept album to soundtrack a short film, it faces up to growing old with fear and trepidation, and confronts the responsibilities of parenthood with tragic insight, wrapped into a baroque art-rock package that positions them as far away from nostalgia as possible.
Its accompanying picture, directed by Roger Sargent, is as much a part of Night Thoughts as the album, which gives the first half of their gig at Leeds’s O2 Academy the feeling of an intimate art exhibition. A translucent screen is stretched across the stage, upon which Sargent’s film – the story of a drowning man whose life flashes before his eyes – is projected, whilst behind, the band play the LP in its entirety. It’s an emotionally challenging experience, but entirely riveting. As the protagonist wades into the ocean to the ominous strings of When You Are Young, there’s a thrillingly cinematic feel to it. When the screen recedes from its opaque projection to reveal guitarist Richard Oakes during the urgent Outsiders, there’s the sense of peeking behind the curtains into the raw nerve of a band riding a second wind.
|Suede live at the Albert Hall, Manchester, 2016. Courtesy of MEN.|
The remainder – drummer Simon Gilbert, multi-instrumentalist Neil Codling, bassist Mat Osman and frontman Brett Anderson – all phase into existence at points, though their presence is keenly felt. Gilbert and Osman anchor the bleak No Tomorrow whilst on screen, a grandfather overdoses on painkillers. Codling adds lush textures to the haunting Pale Snow, cold and frigid. But Anderson is the star; his voice is near impeccable, soaring on the heart-rending Tightrope, and the agonising scream on I Can’t Give Her What She Wants helps the film pack additional emotional weight. It’s a dark experience, but no longer focused on bad sex and addiction, it tackles the wider issues of life with a maturity that never sees the band attempting to be their former selves.
Once the album is finished, a short intermission gives way to a second set of hits and treats. Freed from their confines, Suede transform from a restrained creature into a hedonistic beast, a throwback that feels forward-facing. Anderson, lizard-like with absurdly sharp cheekbones, prowls about the stage boundlessly, barking the lyrics to My Insatiable One with a delicious venom. Oakes wrenches out fuzzed noise during a sneering Trash. Animal Nitrate’s iconic intro is messy but its searing crescendo creates palpable euphoria. It feels visceral, an adrenaline rush that takes the grunge-glam sound and beats the crowd unsuspectingly round the head with it.
|Brett Anderson of Suede, live in London in 2016. Courtesy of Gigwise.|
But they click into a finer groove of showmanship as they hit the one-two strut of Killing of a Flashboy. Anderson wades into the crowd for Sabotage, before dedicating a beautifully rare and acoustic Europe is Our Playground to the fans who have followed them throughout the tour. A breathless burst through more classics – a superbly rendered For the Strangers, the glam flourish of So Young, the charged guitars of Beautiful Ones – is flawlessly executed and note-perfect, before Anderson returns to the stalls to conduct a superb acoustic singalong of Everything Will Flow. One more track follows – the aptly fitting New Generation, a song that gives a knowing wink to the reinvention of the former glam veterans. Suede’s bold gamble on Night Thoughts has ultimately paid off, leaving them rejuvenated. Nostalgia? Who needs nostalgia when they can make the old stuff sound new and the new stuff this good?