Brett Anderson – Brett Anderson

Brett Anderson
Brett Anderson

When a lead singer of a band strikes out on his or her own, it’s a natural instinct to want to compare his or her solo work with what he or she has accomplished in the past, especially when there is continuity in lyrics, theme, and vocals, as is the case with Brett Anderson’s debut solo album.

Brett was the frontman of the UK band Suede (also known as The London Suede in the US) in the 1990s, and, at their pinnacle, their songs were a scintillating cross-breed of brash glam rock and sweepingly romantic ballads, filled with kicky drum-work, burnished guitar lines, and a lead singer who passionately flung himself into the music, both vocally and physically.

After Suede broke up, Brett continued on musically, reuniting with his main collaborator from Suede, Bernard Butler, and forming The Tears, a valiant, and not-half-bad, attempt at trying to recapture the glory of his former band.

Not content to focus solely on The Tears, Brett offers up his self-titled solo album, where he revisits past themes, but this time in the role of the world-weary singer-songwriter. Gone are the burnished guitars of old, replaced predominantly by flowing piano notes, orchestral strings, strummed guitar, and a stately pacing that doesn’t allow for any guitar-based, rockin’ numbers. Gone is the youthful exuberance and bravado of a cheeky Brett, and in its place are the musings of a maturing, and more serious man, who still has the ability vocally to stir the emotions, but who doesn’t let go enough on this album.

Brett’s vocals, while as graceful as ever, are now steeped in a mellow fatigue, and the emotional range he displays is limited on most songs. This is not the ardent, heart-on-sleeve Brett of early Suede. The mood here is decidedly chilled, as if the brashly romantic insouciance of Suede has flamed out, leaving but cool ash. It would be exciting for Brett to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, but his passion seems dissipated and blown to the wind…

Taken on its own terms, however, without the musical history of Suede and The Tears, Brett Anderson does have its charms. Most songs are intimate, low-key, and mid-tempo paced. The opener “Love Is Dead” greets the ear with a short bit of orchestral strings, with the emphasis on sweetly mournful cello. Brett comes in, equally as sweetly melancholy, and backed by a laid-back beat and slowly struck piano notes. The song is reminiscent of later-day Suede, recalling the smooth dynamics of “Everything Will Flow”, except that this song states the opposite lyrically, as Brett sings in a resigned voice “Nothing ever goes right, nothing really flows in my life, no one really cares if, no one ever shares my bed…” and “…Love is dead, love is dead…”.

The smoothly flowing strings continue throughout most of the song, but mid-way through, there’s a shift in the vocal bridge, augmented with brighter instrumentation as Brett exclaims about “plastic people” (an old Suede reference), which then slides into the catchy refrain of “…no one really cares if there’s horrors inside my head…love is dead, love is dead.”.

By the end of the song Brett keeps the vocal and emotional vibe restrained, even though an electric guitar line breaks out to give the ending more sizzle. The beat finally stops, and it’s just strings and Brett’s sweet voice murmuring “…and all the lies that you’ve given us…blow like wind in my head…”.

The next song, “One Lazy Morning”, again recalls a later-day Suede tune, with its soft, brushed beat, piano, lighter strings, and Brett’s clear, but subdued vocals. While the theme of romance and broken hearts figures largely into the lyrics of many a song by Brett, this one goes for a different issue, and it’s quite unexpected when Brett sings “…one lazy morning, am I gonna find Jesus in me?”.

This is a bit startling to hear, this sudden introduction of a religious theme, but as the song continues, it twists the issue around, as Brett sing-talks “Does he watch me while I’m sleeping?…Does he hear what I am thinking?” and the kicker, “Does he care what I believe?”. All of this is delivered in a, yes, lazy, drawn out style with languorous strings and a slow guitar line, recalling the mellow groove of the Suede song “Everything Will Flow”.

“Dust And Rain” shakes it up a bit, albeit still slowly, but with a harder beat and electric guitar line and Brett exclaiming more and sounding more lively. The verses are vintage Suede: “I freeze you in Polaroids… I’m with you ‘cause there is no choice”, and “…your love’s like an overdose, with your hands wrapped around my throat, using sex like an antidote – to the pain”., but pacing-wise, the song moves along at half-speed.

The chorus pushes along with insistently plunked piano notes, a slowly chugging rhythm, and more rockin’ guitar, but it needs to be kicked up a notch, as Brett sings, with vocals doubled, on the chorus “I am the dust, you are the rain, I am the needle, and you are the vein”. The lyrics are simplistic, but the stark imagery makes its point and he pulls it off because of the conviction of his vocal delivery.

Another half-speed song named “Intimacy” follows, with a laid-back beat, buzzing, slightly distorted, winding-around guitar line, and Brett sounding very plain on the verses. At under three minutes, the song isn’t drawn out, and the chorus is ear-catching with an added, fatter, bass-end sound and three different vocal lines, all courtesy of Brett, with one line in a lower tone, one in a plain range, and one higher pitched, as he sings “Intimacy, I want you to be part of me…”.

“To The Winter” is a beautiful song of sweeping, orchestral strings (but seemingly played at same speed and with same tone as “One Lazy Morning” just a few songs ago!), low-key keyboard notes, and a soft beat. The verses are lyrics-heavy as Brett unfolds the story of a relationship that has disintegrated away to nothing, singing prettily about loss: “…deep inside I give my heart to the winter…If you leave, I’ll take this blade, and carve your name into my ugliness…” as the bittersweet strings swell.

Amid the melancholy strings, Brett segues into some plaintive, wordless vocal accents (of the “Woah, a-whoah-ho-ho-ho” kind), engulfing the song with more emotion than any of the previous songs, and at the end he comes to the painfully stark realization that “Now my heart is cold and dark – what have I done? I’ve given our love away”…

A slow-burning ember of dark brightness, “Scorpio Rising”, introduces some new instrumental elements with the slowly weaving, sinuous guitar line, slow-clap wooden beat, and slight tambourine shake. The verse lyrics recall the hey-day of Suede: “…they move with murder in their veins…and kiss their innocence away…”, as steely guitar lines and an “Ahhh”ing background chorus brighten the song.

At around two-thirds of the way into the song, there’s a slight shift in tone, as delicate, mournful flute notes waver on top of the guitar and beat, and by the end of the tune, Brett casts aside his measured vocal tone and stretches his emotions, pushing though with the repeated refrain of “…it’s on the wind…”.

Similar song structure and tone manifest again on “The Infinite Kiss”, with its smooth, mid-tempo pace that recalls “To The Winter”. It’s all highly romantic, with verses like “…in our symphony of flesh, in our universe of bliss…”, but the instrumental dynamics don’t change during the course of the song. Only Brett can get away with what, on paper, sounds trite, however, as he glides over and repeats the line “…in the infinite kiss…”.

The chorus is filled with wordless, “Woah-oh” backing vocals, orchestral strings, a subdued guitar line, and the ting of a triangle, and while it’s lovely, this song could blend in with a few of the previous songs. A once submerged guitar line resurfaces near the end, and there is a change to two guitar lines, and much “Whoah”ing from Brett, but he sounds weary and not expressive enough.

“Colour Of The Night”, at a short two minutes, falls into the same smooth groove of previous songs like “To The Winter” and “The Infinite Kiss”, except that it’s plainer in tone, with low-key, strummed guitar, intertwining piano and keyboard notes, and slowly drawn out cello. The theme and lyrics are reminiscent of “My Dark Star”, an older Suede song, as Brett sing-speaks “My love hides a cruel disease, it’s the bullets in her mind…”. The issues Brett raises in this song are interesting, whether it’s about religion, or a general view on the world, in that he seems to be commenting on a relationship where one person is unmovable in his or her belief in an ideology, and is turning the other person to his or her views: “Tell me when was hell so beautiful, tell me with your words that disagree, tell me with your reason carved like granite”.

Brett goes for a long song title with “The More We Possess The Less We Own Of Ourselves”, basically stating his aim quite clearly, but fleshing it out a bit awkwardly in lyrics and song style. The lyrics-centric song has an old-world feel to it, with its measured pace, see-sawing violins, plucked guitar strings, and short-phrase vocals. A ponderous drumbeat is introduced midway into the song, as Brett, in story-teller mode, sing-talks “…but the more she possessed, the more she’d slide into debt…the less she owned of herself…”, eventually changing the subject of “she” to “we”.

“Ebony”, at under three minutes, is lightweight material, with plain guitar notes and added strings and slow beat on the chorus sections. Brett’s vocals sound warmer and richer on this song, but it really doesn’t merit this type of vocal treatment. The lyrics are too simple, “Ebony, now here we go, moving fast and moving slow”, and there is no tension in the song to make it stand out from the crowd. Only one part of the lyrics make an impression and hark back to Suede: “…I’ll take you where the pigeons fly, and I’ll tell you pretty lies…”…

“Song For My Father” is the “epic” song of the album, starting with a desolate wind sound, then guitar line and slow drum beat. The mood is subdued, with emphasis on the lyrics as a resigned Brett lightly sings “Now my body is sand, and the wind blows through me…I am compost and leaves”.

Strings and plaintive piano notes are introduced, which are eventually backed by fuller strings, and there’s a rising, wordless, lower-register chorus contrasting against Brett’s slightly echoed, and possibly doubled, vocals.

At the three-minute mark there is a interlude of sound, of shaken sand and muffled electronic noises, creating a strange, suspended undercurrent of noise that gradually fades away as measured piano notes come in, along with strings, and Brett plaintively cries “…and my life is gone…and now I am free…”.

Brett vocally hits the high mark of the song, breaking out with an emotional “Ah-hah-hah-ah-hah-hah”, as the strings flow along with a single guitar line, and he finally lets it out, albeit wordlessly, singing a repeated cycle of “Oh, oh, ho ho ho ho”s in a higher register, with his yearning, arching voice.