Do you ever hear those little voices? The ones buried inside your head, but not as deeply as you’d like, taunting you, pushing you to dive headfirst into the forbidden?
Touring in support of new album Night Thoughts, Suede—that’s “The London” Suede to you litigious Yanks—has conceived an elaborate production for the live show that speaks directly to those self-destructive, yet tantalizing, impulses from within. A film—actually, a long-form music video—accompanies the album and is projected on a semi-transparent screen behind which the band performs. At strategic moments, a soft spotlight singles out one or more of the musicians, who appear to bubble up to the surface like a faint memory.
The film depicts a small cast of characters interacting lovingly and violently, dispassionately and emotionally. They dance and drown, frolic and fight, lend aid and commit suicide. This duality is matched sonically, as the album shifts seamlessly from the gritty to the orchestral. “Outsiders” and “Like Kids” recreate the sass and strut of the sharp Britpop that the group perfected more than 20 years ago. “Pale Snow” and “I Can’t Give Her What She Wants” are touching ballads as light as butterflies caught in a gust of wind.
Lyrically, the album explores themes of ageing and loss—natural extrapolations of the band’s traditional obsessions with unrequited desire and imperfect love. “No Tomorrow” enjoins the listener to “fight the sorrow like there’s no tomorrow.” An ambiguously optimistic lyric. Yet while bleak and theatrical, the album neither descends into self-indulgent goth nor loses sight of the value of a catchy chorus and rousing riff.
In fact, with poignant closer “The Fur and the Feathers,” the film and album end on a note … well, not so much of hope as of acceptance. A recognition that we have to soldier on, to keep running, to embrace “the thrill of the chase.”
Night Thoughts tells tales of tortured and transcendent love, frightening and enticing death, all in a coherent-yet-loose narrative that wisely stops short of a forced, bombastic rock opera. The album, coupled with the film and tonight’s live performance, is not merely a triumph—it’s a fucking stunner.
After a brief intermission to reconfigure the stage, Suede returns for a second set that runs through the band’s deep catalog of Bowie-grade, glam-rock gems. The bawdy and sordid “This Hollywood Life” and “Killing Of A Flash Boy,” the mournful and damaged “Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away” and “For The Strangers,” the seductive and coked-up “Animal Nitrate” and “Beautiful Ones”—holy shit, an embarrassment of pop/rock riches.
Indeed, for all the pain and sleaze and torture and filth, tonight’s show is elegant and uplifting. Artist and spectator arrive at a joyous communion. With Suede, misery does not merely love company—company rejoices in the misery. During the iconic “The Drowners,” vocalist Brett Anderson mingles in the crowd where he is promptly groped (by both men and women). But the most emblematic Suede moment of all is the interpretation of Coming Up’s “Trash.” Anderson towers atop his monitors, projecting, bellowing, egging on several hundred fans to sing the self-effacing lyrics that best summarise the relationship between these Britpop legends and their misfit fans: “We’re trash/You and me/We’re the litter on the breeze/We’re the lovers on the street.”
Fight the sorrow? No, celebrate it.