Melody Maker, 7th December 1996
It's like meeting the best f*** of your life, two years on, and wondering how you even stayed awake. There was a time, of course, when Suede were a sex fantasy and soundtrack rolled into one. An alternative lifestyle. They made me varnish my nails, buy a good suit, kiss and tell, trust romance. Tonight, I feel embarrassed by that. Wondering if I read too much into them (YOU NEVER CAN), if they were worth it. They were, but it clearly means nothing to them now.
Brett once had ideas about Pop Stardom — the responsibility, the limits, the freedom. Now he wants to be in Just Another Band. One of the lads. Liverpool gets a stage show with a script we've seen too many times (that cocked arse gives us nothing but FAMILIARITY), underscored by the most bogstandard performance you never thought them capable of. For a band whose best moments always came in the spaces between nuances, the sumptuous DETAIL of their sound, tonight's gig is a distressingly shabby barrage of blare and treble. All you can hear is Brett's voice, Simon's drums and Oakes' overstated, overwrought guitar. Neil's keyboards might as well be at the bottom of the Mersey, Mat Osman's bass doesn't reveal itself all night. And, God, they're in such a f***in' RUSH.
The songs from Coming Up may simply not measure up to the older stuff, but they're never even given a chance. 'Trash' gets kicked about early, far too fast and sloppy for its gorgeous hooks to get any purchase; 'Filmstar' and 'Lazy' are just too damn ugly to be prettified by anyone; 'Saturday Night', perhaps one of their finest moments, becomes a grisly Quireboys flop tonight, 'Star Crazy' just a mess, Brett's stageplay finding nowhere new to throw itself, becoming the repetitive creaking motions of a performer somehow terrified of spontaneity.
Of the older songs, only 'Animal Nitrate' ignites, its vicious lunges and strange leaps intact and never sharper. 'The Wild Ones' loses its necessary subtlety in a messy sea of fuzz, while 'So Young' sounds so OLD (and already, it seems this song will becomes Suede's 'My Generation', a record that will haunt them forever with an ever-increasing incongruity). It's all quite startlingly ordinary.
They close with 'Beautiful Ones', and you're struck by how much things have changed. How much they HAD to change, you realise. Suede's difference, the alien-ness that made them so vital once, so unique, would never be accepted by the indie consensus in '96, which has never been more conformist, never more narrow-minded.
With the Oasis/Blur war narrowing the goalposts so hugely since Suede last stepped out Brett knew there was no way to return successfully without playing to those blinkered souls, no way to keep going without first jettisoning virtually everything that had set them apart, and then jumping into the pit. Which means that Suede are now just another indie rock band, another beery doss. Shed Seven with better cheekbones, Kula Shaker with a five-years-younger template. Sleeper with smaller hits. A success story, but less a comeback than a RETREAT.
As I leave, before the encore, my eyes are stinging, my throat choked with near fury, I take one last look back and clock the crowd. I see no strangers, no aliens, nobody who needs them; I see beered-up people JUST LIKE ME. They're welcome to it. Suede were all right tonight. And that's not nearly enough.
© Neil Kulkarni, 1996