Interview with Alex Lee from Suede
After having worked with The Jazz Butcher, The Blue Aeroplanes, Strangelove and, most recently, Suede (co-writing one of the best songs from New Morning, ‘Streetlife’), the gifted musician and songwriter Alex Lee is back in Bristol, waiting to see where destiny takes him next. As he packed away his instruments from tonight’s performance – a one-off intimate Strangelove retrospective with Patrick Duff – I asked him a little about being in Suede and his future.
The Mind’s Construction: Do you think Suede should have ended now?
Alex Lee: “A band is not an institution. It has its time and that’s it.”
TMC: So where do you go from here?
AL: “I don’t know, I don’t like to make plans. Music is not about making plans. I’ll go wherever I go. It will be interesting to see what offers come in.”
TMC: Will there be an Alex Lee solo album?
AL: “Let me tell you, the world really doesn’t need an Alex Lee solo album.”
TMC: But don’t you want to be more than a glorified session musician?
[To which a fellow fan responds]: “Possibly he’s happy just being glorified.”
TMC: I recently read Dave Barnett’s biography of Suede, you come out of it well . . .
AL: “All of my quotes in that book come from a half-hour interview I did with him. I’m happy that I only play a cameo role in the book because I only played a cameo role in the band.”
TMC: I didn’t think there was enough music criticism in it for music biography.
AL: “I think he said what he thought, he is quite harsh on some aspects . . . The problem with that book was that it was supposed to promote the greatest hits but I think that it ended up removing a lot of the mystique.”
TMC: It was interesting to see the band at the Brixton Academy, very much a good time rock band . . .
AL: “That place can really kill your sound if you’re not careful, but I actually found it a much better gig that the Astoria one. It was more direct. The Astoria gig was making Suede out to be this arty and mysterious group and that ‘s not really what Suede is about at all.”
TMC: But wasn’t it the mystique that made Suede a great band in the first place?
AL: “I disagree. Like the new song, ‘Music Like Sex,’* that was undoubtedly the best thing that I did with Suede. Sorry, I’ve really got to take this keyboard out to the car . . .”
TMC: . . .
*Anderson’s catchy new pop song built around the mantra “music like sex, we like to have sex to” first played on the last tour.
Suede at Brixton Academy
By announcing that they were splitting before the greatest hits tour had even begun, Suede were at least being open about the fact that indifference had smothered what felt at one point like the best band in Britain. There would be no emotional walk-outs, no seething bitterness, no sadness at their demise, nothing momentous. By this stage – their penultimate gig – they were running through the motions. And look at what excruciating motions they were: the old songs were note-perfect, but drained of life. Brett Anderson, a man who looks like he has gone into the barbers with a picture of Jimmy White (the snooker player who has had embarrassing hair replacement therapy), was vulgar to the extent that one wondered whether he has been replaced, like conspiracy theorist claims about Paul McCartney, by someone who looks like him but without the talent.
Before tonight I didn’t understand those people who thought that a mediocre album could reduce the appeal of the band they love. Even the most misjudged album (say Maladjusted by Morrissey) occasionally reveals something interesting; or, if not, there is nothing to stop you from enjoying their early, good stuff. The reason it pains one to hear a band you love go bad is that calls into question everything else they have done. After tonight even the things that one thought were safely ensconced in the Bernard Butler-era sounded a bit rubbish. It is easy to be glib about Suede, to diminish whatever impact they had upon music scene with a few ill-chosen barbs, chiefly because they are so glib about themselves.
“What are we?” asks Brett to a silent audience. “What are we? We’re the litter on the breeze! We’re the flowers in the concrete. . . . I’d like to dedicate this song to every single one of you who came here tonight.” And they play Beautiful Ones, a song that has never seemed more inappropriate. Long gone are the days when either Suede or their audience even attempted to look beautiful. They are good time boys, having a laugh, with the beery terrace chanters in the audience lapping it up. Any ambiguity – lyrical, musical, image – is rent apart by the way Suede currently play. Latter day Anderson commits the worst crime a lyricist can inflict on a devoted fanbase by looking for the universal in the universal. Everything Will Flow, Can’t Get Enough, Obsessions: none of these songs are grounded in the specific.
Like Bowie in the 80s, they are little more than soulless, good time, vulgar, platitudinous, journeymen. The ache, the demon, the mojo, the Butler – whatever it was that made their debut and Dog Man Star such incandescent triumphs has been cooked in a spoon and flushed away. New Generation and Asphalt World sounded great, but only because they are great on CD. Nothing special crashed through workmanlike official versions, neither humour nor wit enlivened the tired arrangements.
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.