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The Tears, Live in Heaven

In 1992 Suede was hailed by the notoriously excitable Melody Maker magazine as “The Best Band in Britain”—before they even had a legitimate single out. The appraisal, almost unbelievably, was frighteningly accurate. They were extraordinary to see, thrilling to hear. Not since the Smiths had a band combined such brazen sexuality with extraordinary musicianship—courtesy in Suede, respectively, of its chief songwriters, vocalist Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler. Suede enjoyed a string of adored singles and an acclaimed eponymous debut album before things began to, at first slowly and then very quickly, fall apart. During the recording of their follow-up album Butler, allegedly weary of his bandmates’ drug use, emotionally distraught following the death of his father, and finished laying down his guitar tracks for the record, quit the band. Anderson and his remaining bandmates recruited a replacement in 17-year-old guitar prodigy Richard Oakes, who has been with the band ever since. That is, at least, until Suede went on interminable hiatus two years ago.

Somewhere in all of that Brett Anderson picked up an addiction to crack. Somewhere in there Bernard Butler released a number of collaborations and solo records that, for whatever reason, never inspired an audience. On one occasion in 1997 Suede released another good, though altogether very different, album, Coming Up. But still, you have to wonder, what could have happened had things turned out… different?

Well now we may well know, since Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler have reunited as the Tears, and it sounds like they’re here to reclaim their former glory. And, based on recordings from a show last month in London, it sounds like they’re well on their way to finding it.

“Imperfection” churns with upbeat pop perfection, overflowing with out-of-this-world guitar lines. “The Ghost of You” is a heartbreaking number that wouldn’t be at all out of place the last time Butler and Anderson worked together, on Suede’s 1994 album, Dog Man Star. Anderson is perhaps at his best ever lyrically when he comes clean in his drug confessional, “Beautiful Pain”: “And I cling to my pillow / And scratch out my veins / You kiss like a killer / Such a beautiful pain.” The band’s finest moment is, however, “Apollo 13,” which recaptures every bit of the inventiveness and spirit and sex that made Suede as important as they really are, as they continue to be to so many fans. It’s a sprawling song, with angular, rising guitar and cliffhanger choruses that carve out an emptiness in the listener only to fill it with an absolutely glorious guitar solo, touched with those impeccable vocals.

And when an audience member dares to call out for the classic Suede number “The Drowners?”

Anderson only replies, “You’ve come to the wrong gig… You’ve come to the wrong gig.”

[ band site ]

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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