Love & Poison Vinyl Review
I believe the video for Love & Poison: Live at the Brixton Academy is the closest I can get to Suede’s early days. By all accounts, gigs around the time of Suede were young, riotous, uncharted affairs. But no video can simulate what it’s like to be at a gig, let alone in the sweat-drenched pit. Suede’s decision to use extremely quick cuts and interspersed ephemera may have been an attempt to augment the energy and provide viewers with the next best thing. The attempt, while massively entertaining, has done a slight disservice to the music they played at Brixton in May of 1993.
The Record Store Day release of Love & Poison on clear vinyl (and its simultaneous release on streaming platforms) has been revelatory. Without the distractions of the video, the music truly shines. Simon’s sharp, driving drums in ‘Moving’ are especially exceptional, without the motion sickness editing. He charges in at breakneck speed for ‘Painted People’ and rolls out a filthy introduction to ‘The Drowners,’ once again proving that Simon Gilbert (there’s only one!) is a tragically underrated pop-rock drummer. This remastered audio also highlights the piece of the Suede puzzle that is Mat Osman. Turn up the bass on your stereo and enjoy his dramatic slides in ‘She’s Not Dead’ and ‘Pantomime Horse.’ Mat’s loping, striding bassline is a constant that propels the band from one classic to the next—a constant that’s strong and clear on Love & Poison.
For me, having found Suede during Coming Up in 1996, there’s nothing better than this release to punctuate just what Bernard contributed to the band’s early sound. Riffs that I occasionally (sadly) take for granted, such as the grinding, twanging opening notes of ‘My Insatiable One’ or the jangling shoop-shoop rhythm of ‘Metal Mickey,’ are made shiny and daring once again, stripping away years of familiarity. His performance is murky and ragged with a hefty dose of improv, as he used their recorded catalogue as a general reference point while exploring new sonic territory. The tension between him and Brett comes through loud and clear, no matter the years or the medium. The hot pulse of competition sets fire to songs such as ‘Animal Nitrate’ and ‘So Young’. For good or ill, Suede haven’t been this risky in a long time.
When I said that listening to Love & Poison eliminates the distractions of the video, I mean all distractions—including the lads themselves. Brett was unbearably beautiful, with his long hair and earrings and sinew. Stripped of visuals, certain songs become entirely different experiences—none more so than ‘He’s Dead’. Without Brett’s luscious snake-charmer dancing to grab my attention, I felt fully able to appreciate the magic Bernard, Mat, and Simon conjure during the more-than-two-minute instrumental jam. It’s raunch-a-go-go, with Mat’s nimble fingers giving Bernard a run for his money with regard to guitar virtuosity. Although chaos was just around the corner, they heedlessly barreled onward. ‘He’s Dead’ is how that bloody brilliant push toward chaos sounded.
So without the visuals, what remains of Brett Anderson, the dynamic frontman? The word ‘dynamic’ still applies, but in the musical sense. While not as practiced as he is today, he possessed instinctive control of vocal light and shade. His rendering of the opening track, ‘The Next Life,’ is tempered and angelic, welcoming you to the bacchanalia by first breaking your heart. ‘Pantomime Horse,’ so snarling and dirty, displays the octave jump that would eventually influence much of his songwriting. And his chaotic yelps in the finale of ‘To the Birds’ are a throwback to a time before he began to resent his own sound. This is a young vocalist still experimenting with his instrument, not yet proficient but not yet restrained or embarrassed either.
My favorite song from the performance remains ‘Sleeping Pills.’ The second verse is particularly transcendent, when the lads pare the music back to almost nothing, as if to highlight them each individually. Brett’s feral ‘you don’t need them!’ Bernard’s hellacious screech. Mat’s thump, thump, thump. Then Simon brings them back together, building toward Brett’s moaning, climactic ohhhh. I could exist in that oh forever. It’s a timeless moment, and Love & Poison—now ours to enjoy in its remastered glory—is a timeless addition to Suede’s catalogue.
By Carrie Lofty
Thank you Carrie for such a great review. You can still purchase copies of the Love & Poison vinyl at various record stores online including Crash Records. You can buy the London Suede version at Banquet Records.