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Gig Review: Brett Anderson, Manchester Royal Northern College of Music, 26th September 2008

Dear Brett Anderson,

Last night’s gig at the Royal Northern College of Music in support of your new album, Wilderness, was many things, but it was far from being a typical Brett Anderson gig. I know we’ve had our musical differences over the last couple of years but seeing you on stage really made me worry about you. You looked gaunt and a little ill – a thin man who is noticeably thinner, eyes sunk into his skull, brings out my mothering instinct. Please, let me send you a casserole, or some brownies. You need a good feed or twenty. It might cheer you up. I’m deadly serious, if you want me to feed you, let me know. I’ll send a care package. I promise not to send Pot Noodle. I also promise not to poison you. I’d hate to see the songwriter whose Dog Man Star and Coming Up albums got me through the two worst years of my life starve to death. I’d also hate for you not to receive the same comfort from somewhere that your records gave me.

The first twenty or so minutes of your performance, where you emerged to the piano without even acknowledging the audience were excruciating. Running one song into the next, the songs from Wilderness all have the same tone and pace, are even in the same key, and the cello arrangements are so monotonous that I didn’t notice when “A Different Place” turned into “The Emperess.” With you staring at your hands, tearing through these slow dirges, it was hard to engage with what was occuring on stage. Although I adore “Back To You” it felt soulless, the way you were jauntily hitting the keys with a plink-plink-plink, even though it was slow and quiet, it felt hurried, lacking in the necessary brooding and restraint.

I was so relieved when you finally moved to your stool and took up a guitar. “Love Is Dead” was a bit better, even though you still kept your eyes closed and for the first time ever I quite enjoyed “Song for My Father” – it was the first moment in the show where you actually seemed to be really singing something like you meant it. Now this is not to say that you landed a note out of place, but watching you perform with such obvious disengagement from the gig, like you were entirely in your own head, barely acknowledging the crowd or even your cellist, Amy, was so unlike you as a performer that it really detracted from the experience.

I kept expecting you to open your eyes, banter with the crowd, tell a dorky anecdote, but we got nothing – just closed eyes and song after relentless song.  “Funeral Mantra” connected a bit better than it had when I was listening to the album, “To the Winter” suffered the same fate as “Back to You.” I wanted to scream “WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT US!” on a number of occasions but the pace between songs was such that I’d have had to interrupt your playing – and I’m not quite that rude (nearly, perhaps). I was terribly disappointed when you left after 45 minutes for the interval.

The problem I had, and I continue to have this morning is that just over a year ago I saw you perform songs from your eponymous debut, Brett Anderson, at the Manchester Academy. Despite promoting an album you described as personal and intimate you were strutting around like a rock god, waving your arms, shaking your arse and the gig lacked that intimacy – until you did an interlude of acoustic songs with just your guitar. That was an amazing 15 minutes because you stopped being a performer and just sang to the audience. You were engaged with us, you were open and you talked with us and for a few minutes the wall dropped and I felt like we were seeing a vulnerable, honest performance. You can see what I said in my original review. I’m also not the only reviewer to have expressed this sentiment.

Strangely, a few months later you went out on an acoustic tour and then recorded an acoustic album. Maybe you already had this plan in mind, but the cynic in me wonders if you read your reviews and thought that in order to achieve songwriter gravitas you had to pursue this direction – whether you wanted to or not. The worry is that something in your head told you that Brett Anderson at 40 cannot be a rock star, can’t explore and experiment with computers or electronics, plugged in instruments – that people wil say you lack dignity if you don’t go all singer-songwriter acoustic. The worry is that you feel that acoustic and slow is the same thing as honest, open and vulnerable – it is not. I have seen screaming punk rock performances, electronica acts who were raw and expressive and honest. It wasn’t the fact you were playing acoustically on your own – it was the fact that you weren’t delivering a performance, you were, quite simply, singing songs that mattered to you back to us.

Last night was a different story, however. Now, maybe I have it wrong and these songs are so emotional for you that you find it hard to perform them and you need to go inside your own head to get through the performance – but I just find that hard to believe. You produced some very raw performances of some very emotional songs with Suede and there was rarely a moment where you were disengaged from your audience – even when you were at your worst, while promoting Head Music. But mostly, this conclusion comes from the fact that the Suede part of the set consisted of much of the same disengagement.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled when you came back on stage and played “Europe is Our Playground”. “The Wild Ones” still has the ability to completely make the world stop for me and “Still Life” nearly brought a tear to my eye. On the other hand, one of my all-time Suede favourites, “Pantomime Horse” suffered a bit from the sudden need to express emotion which involved violent strumming and headbanging – open your eyes, stand up and express it as a singer, don’t just phone it in with a rock cliche! “The Living Dead” suffered from the same fate.

When you moved back to your piano and treated us to “Another No One”, “Down”, “He’s Gone”, “The 2 Of Us” and “Asphalt World”, I finally felt that you were coming out of your shell a little – you looked at us a couple of times, or maybe I just love those songs that much that your coldness didn’t matter.

The final two songs, however, were an absolute disgrace. I made a joke in our Manchester Gig Guide earlier in the week regarding hearing “Trash” and “Animal Nitrate” on acoustic guitar and cello. I did not expect to get this performance – albeit “So Young” instead of “Animal Nitrate”. For starters, even though you acknowledge that playing “So Young” is a bit ironic that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t retire it entirely. It sounded ridiculous. Ok, it was pretty, but the slow, acoustic delivery completely destroyed the anger and energy of the song. “Trash” sounded moronic when you played it in that format for Jonathan Ross on Radio 2 a few years ago, it sounded even more idiotic last night. Singing a bombastic song about mis-spent youth, clubbing and drugs in the same dirge-like manner as the rest of your recent offerings just emphasizes the fact that you were delivering what you think you should be doing now, rather than playing the songs in the way that you’re really feeling them.

I enjoyed parts of your performance, you sing beautifully and you always have, however Mr. Brett Anderson, your performance in Manchester last night felt hollow and at times I think you knew that – or you would have been able to make eye contact with us.

Please Brett, before releasing another monotone album where the bland music contrasts and spoils the melodrama in the lyrics, please think about what will work best for what you’re feeling and for what the songs need. Don’t just make an acoustic album so you sound “mature” and don’t just make a bombastic rock album because that’s what the legions of fans who have deserted you over the last two years will require in order to return to the fold. Think about what you need to write in order to be open, vulnerable and honest with us again and try to write that record.

Oh, and do eat something please.

All the best,

Justhipper

Posted by JustHipper on 27th September 2008 at 11:48 am | comments (13)
File under brett anderson,Gig Reviews,manchester gigs,video.

Brett Anderson Live in Manchester 26th September: Video of “Europe Is Our Playground”

Brett Anderson live at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester tonight was many things, good and bad. Here’s a video of him performing Suede classic, “Europe Is Our Playground”. There will be much more video and a full review to follow, possibly very late tonight, possibly tomorrow.

Posted by JustHipper on 27th September 2008 at 12:04 am | comments (1)
File under brett anderson,manchester gigs,video.

The Manchester Gig Guide: 21st – 27th September 2008

Brett Anderson of Suede drooling over Bernard Butler

Well, a day late and from the wrong member of the Indie Cred household, here’s the weekly gig guide.

It seems that last night we missed Beggars at the Night & Day, System of a Down side-project Scars on Broadway at the Manchester Academy and hardcore band Strike Anywhere at the Music Box. Oh well.

As for tonight, if I manage to get this posted in the next 10 minutes or so, you might manage to get down to the Manchester Academy to see experimental rock-rap-funk outfit Flobots, down to the Roadhouse for Infadels or to the Night & Day for White Lies, although that last one, it seems, has been sold out at least since Friday’s Manchester Evening News went to press.

Now, on to the gigs that aren’t already nearly history. Tuesday, September 23rd looks to be a quiet night with not much more than Liz Green, Ben Wetherill and Essie Jain, a trio of singer-songwriters, on at Matt & Phreds. Elsewhere, Mancunian band Ideas as Opiates are on at a showcase at the Night & Day which also features Frank is Dead and Sycamore.

On Wednesday the 24th things start to pick up a bit more when quirky Canadian indie-pop outfit Islands take over the Night & Day. Last time I saw Islands playing to a half-full crowd in the Roadhouse they were utterly charming so I’d recommend joining The Ledge to check out their latest offerings. Elsewhere experimental folkster Adem plays at the Ruby Lounge, supported by charming jangly instrumentalists Tim and Sam’s Tim and The Sam Band with Tim and Sam while gloom-rockers 1913 play the Hilton Hotel, of all places. On a completely different note, grime rapper Sway is on at Jabez Clegg, which could be interesting if only to see such a hotly-tipped hip hopper in such a tiny setting. If small, intimate gigs by good bands aren’t your thing, however, or you’ve a zimmer frame and want to hark back to your childhood in a more overpriced, seated setting, you can always head down to the Apollo for The Moody Blues. If you remember them from their first go round, however, you’re either really old, you weren’t really there, or both.

Thursday sees the welcome return of Scottish indie-folk-rockers Broken Records to the Night & Day. We enjoyed them the last time around and we may head down ourselves, although we’re likely to skip opener Troubadour as we’ve had little luck with bands of similar names. However, we’re also sorely tempted by the idea of Neil Halstead of Slowdive and Mojave 3 performing on his own at Sacred Trinity Church. It may come down to a coin toss for that one. If you fancy a bit of hypnotically loud post-rock, then Amusement Parks on Fire are on at Retro Bar along with the very amusingly-named Apes Fight Back. For the more electronica-minded amongst us, try heading down to catch Fujiya & Miyagi at The Deaf Institute. If neither of those take your fancy, there’s always psychedelic rockabilly courtesy of Jon Spencer’s newest band Heavy Trash. Enjoyable local rockers The Maple State are on at The Music Box while Spear of Destiny trigger some memories of the 1980’s over at Club Academy.

Friday, Suede fans of the world will get the opportunity to lob rotten tomatoes, rocks and pints of piss at me as I head down to see Brett Anderson attempt to interest us in his latest solo offering at the Royal Northern College of Music. My companion for the gig and I will be hoping he gets the solo stuff out of the way early so we can see whether “Trash” and “Animal Nitrate” sound as bad on the cello as we expect they will. On a slightly similar note, Wigan’s finest, Starsailor, will be performing at Moho Live in front of the 6 people who still care. For those not interested in mainstream indie whinging, get your dancing shoes out for disco diva Sam Sparro at Manchester Academy or dust off your leather trousers and head down to watch Dragonforce at Club Academy. If none of that takes your fancy, you could always check out some famous folk offspring in the form of Teddy Thompson at the Ruby Lounge. Of course Corrie and a bottle of wine sound pretty good on a Friday night too.

Saturday the 27th looks to be the night of the indie anthem as Puressence play Club Academy and Longview perform at the Roadhouse. Of course, if you’re feeling a bit less 1997, you could head down and see It Bites at Club Academy. We’d recommend, however,  that you rest up for the following weekend as In the City prepares to descend on us once again.

Mojave 3 – Mercy

Amusement Parks on Fire – Asphalt (Interlude)

Posted by JustHipper on 22nd September 2008 at 9:27 pm | comments (5)
File under brett anderson,gig guide,islands,manchester gigs,mp3,night & day.

CD Review: Brett Anderson, Wilderness (2008)

I wasn’t going to do this, but we’ve actually been getting some traffic from people looking for it so….

A friend sent me a link to a leaked copy of the second solo album from Brett Anderson about a month ago. I played it once. Yesterday I decided that was unfair so I put it on my iPod and started to play it a second time on the way to the bus for work. I made it through about a minute and a half of the first song before revulsion overtook me and I had to turn it off.

The best way to describe Brett Anderson’s newest offering is that if I didn’t know who he was and I had never been a Suede fan and somebody played this for me, I probably wouldn’t remember what it sounded like 5 minutes later. Musically it’s one long dirgeful whinge. He’s record-label-less and probably can’t afford to hire a studio band so instead he’s decided to pretend that he’s going for gravitas and so it’s piano and cello. Except there’s no texture to anything because he was never the musical one in Suede so it just drones. Not only that but the album is nine songs long and at least 2 of them have been released before, although in slightly different form. Of those two, “Back to You” has been out twice before, both different versions. The first two were pretty good, it’s the best thing he’s done post-Tears. The version on Wilderness, with horrendous female vocals courtesy of, I’m told, Roman Polanski’s wife, ruins the song so badly that I may never be able to listen to it again. Cheers Brett.

The same friend who sent me the link for the album reckons that lyrically it’s Brett Anderson’s best work in years. It may well be, but any credibility he had left went out the door when he was singing about how wanting stuff was shallow but was turning up at every product launch going and then he tried to justify it as “I have to make a living.” Well, if you have to whore yourself about for money don’t tell other people they’re wrong to do the same thing. So really, lyrically, I’m not feeling what he’s singing anymore because I don’t believe he’s sincere about a single syllable that comes out of his mouth.

I could possibly live with the idea that he was feeling guilty about the whole thing which is why he was writing songs about how you shouldn’t buy stuff until he started giving off recently about how he’s very happy and things are the best they’ve ever been and then produces a miserable album where he sings about being depressed and lonely (and I’m sure some uber-fan will correct me and give me a run down of every theme on the album now, bring it on…). I get it, he probably is very depressed and lonely, wondering what happened to his career, but then if that’s the case, don’t tell your fans and journalists you’re thrilled where you are – tell them you’re pissed off, get angry, get philosophical and stop waffling. He says one thing, he does another, I don’t buy a word of it anymore. Either he’s full of shit in the press (most likely) or he’s trying to write the songs people expect him to write. Or both.

If he’s happy, then why is he singing miserable songs? Write some upbeat pop tunes, churn out an anthem or two, at least try and get some people dancing! If he’s not happy then don’t mope – get angry about it and show some fire! The acoustic stuff was okay briefly when it made me think for a second he might be showing a bit of emotion rather than playing up to the audience. Now he’s just milking that angle to try and make the songs sound emotionally deeper than they probably are.

Ultimately I suspect this album is an exercise in futility aimed at getting a bit of cash off the 100 people who are still willing to pay money for his output merely because he’s Brett Anderson, he has a nice fringe and he used to be in Suede. As far as I can tell, however, he’s biding his time at this point for that Suede reunion where him, Mat Osman and Neil Whatshisname tour as Suede with a session guitarist and drummer so they’ll have money for their retirement. It’ll be a relief when he finally gives up any pretense at still having credibility and just gets on with it.

*Update 13/09/08- We’ve had a sudden surge of visitors from a couple of German MP3 sites looking for these tracks and we’re afraid that as a result we’re out of bandwidth. Try again in a couple of weeks or, erm, take The Guardian up on their special offer and buy the album.

Brett Anderson – A Different Place

Brett Anderson – Back to You (album version)

Posted by JustHipper on 24th July 2008 at 11:34 pm | comments (37)
File under brett anderson,cd review.