Hunky-dory Bloodsports heralds the welcome return of British band Suede after an over-10-year absence from the music scene. Who would have thought that a band that made its name during the heady years of the 1990s, when Britpop ruled the U.K. and indie U.S. airwaves, would make a comeback in 2013? Who would have thought that, after all these years, frontman Brett Anderson would still revile the music press-created “Britpop” tag that was stuck to Suede? Because even though Suede’s members may be British, and they may play dramatic, romantic glam pop, and rock, songs that reference the past, they never considered themselves to be part of the Britpop movement…
While most of the bands that were covered under the nostalgic Britpop umbrella have since become a distant memory, Suede has persevered through the passage of time, perversely, by preserving its past. Bloodsports serves up a combo reminiscent of the original sounds found on the band’s acclaimed sophomore album Dog Man Star and third album Coming Up. The songs on Bloodsports are suitable to excite the fans (Yes, they do still exist!), enthuse the critics, engage the occasional casual listener, and elicit a shrug from the general public.
Gone are the days when Brett, with lacy shirt half-falling off his torso, smacked his bottom with the mic to the beat of “Animal Nitrate” at The Brits. Gone are the days when creative dynamic duo Brett and guitarist Bernard Butler collaborated on Suede’s self-titled debut and second album, with Bernard leaving the band before Dog Man Star was even completed. Brett, bassist Mat Osman, and drummer Simon Gilbert forged ahead, revamping the line-up, with Richard Oakes replacing Bernard and adding Neil Codling on keyboards and backing vocals. The starry-eyed glamour of Coming Up followed, along with the release of Sci-Fi Lullabies, a 2-CD retrospective of b-sides, some of which rivaled and even surpassed studio album tracks.
Suede had to endure a name change to The London Suede in the U.S. due to another artist already having rights to the name. At the cusp of 2000 and beyond, the band began to fade away from critical and public success with the more experimental-leaning Head Music and the glossy pop of ‘last’ album A New Morning. Suede disbanded in 2003, with Brett reuniting with Bernard Butler for the one-off project The Tears, a revisiting of former glory days. It was a valiant, but in vain attempt to appeal to a mass audience. Brett went solo in 2006, carving out a niche for himself as an introspective wordsmith and balladeer on a string of low-key albums (although 2011’s Black Rainbows kicked up the rock a notch).
Yes, gone are the days when the U.K. charts and press were dominated by Blur Vs. Oasis and Suede was inextricably linked to Britpop… Or so it seemed. Yet while so much has changed in the musical landscape from 1993 to 2013, Suede’s new songs remain the same, or at least in a similar vein, contained in a time capsule of the band’s own making. It’s as if the past 20 years haven’t existed. The bloom is not yet off the rose…
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Suede was ‘so young’, excitable and exciting, with a bright-eyed, brash delivery and outlook from Brett on vocals and Bernard on guitar (and Mat on bass and Simon on drums). Carefree, heart-on-sleeve rockers found common ground with careworn, heartfelt ballads. Brett’s lyrics showcased his keen sensibility towards the underside of life, the socially marginalized, and strife of the relationship kind. He painted the (sub)urban world with his potently poetic imagery while Bernard sliced through Brett’s dramatics and romanticizing with his sharply defined, burnished guitar lines, deftly imparting a gritty glamour and defiance to Brett’s words.
Although none of the songs on Bloodsports reach the ardent, sweeping heights of “The Wild Ones”, the passionately overwrought conflagration of “We Are the Pigs”, the glam, hip-shaking scintillation of “She” and “Starcrazy”, the stately grandeur (and sometimes grandiosity) of the tragic ballads on Dog Man Star, or the insouciant romps of “So Young” and “The Drowners” off the band’s debut album, some come extremely close in recapturing Suede’s long-dormant magic.
While the stirring, anthemic “Barriers” is not the first single proper (That would be the middle-of-the-road “It Starts and Ends With You”.), it does spotlight the thrilling rock side of the band. Brett, in fine fettle, slides through the verses with ease amid a cantering tempo, bursting forth exuberantly on the surging chorus. The verses are dispensed with quickly, with Brett and his bandmates condensing the chorus sections, aiming straight for the melodic sweet spot with a quick hit of high-flying sing-alongs. Richard pushes his guitar just a little bit harder and is rewarded by an occasional wiry, reverberating twang.
“Snowblind” keeps the rock and attitude flowing with Simon’s emphatic drumwork and Brett’s sharp-cut vocals on the verses. The chorus ups the intensity with Brett exclaiming against Richard’s cycling rock guitar grind. The glam rock of “Hit Me” lands squarely with a smacked beat, winding, gritty guitar line, and Brett’s matter-of-fact bravado on the sing-talking verses (“The moment we touch / we are young.”) and his airy, rising vocals on the dreamy chorus sections (“Come on and hit me / with your majesty.”)
“Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away” corners the market on epic balladry with sinuously seductive verses that lead to a lighter-than-air chorus of Brett’s wistful vocals and Richard’s curving guitar line, belying the weight of Brett’s lyrics (“Sometimes I feel I’ll float away / without you to hold me.”) The song deepens at the very end with Neil’s burgeoning keyboard notes and Brett pushing out his words expressively. The elegiacal “What Are You Not Telling Me?” travels a starker route via spare piano notes, expansive synths, and a haunting, tiered vocal choral backing Brett as he mourns “The mysteries of love / are not for us.” and “It’s the little things / that are tearing us up.”
The elegant “Always” comes across like a pumped up ballad from Brett’s solo efforts with the focus on his graceful, but melancholic vocals and sedate pace. As the song continues, however, it builds up to a heart-tugging pull with the addition of an electric guitar line and Brett’s more emphatic vocals. Suede is at the crossroads of rock and ballad modes on album closer “Faultlines”, with suspended strings and piano notes on the verses alternating with pronounced drums and guitars on the chorus. Through it all Brett sings in a weary, yearning tone to “celebrate” and that “With every word we breathe / …we live again.”
Official Site: http://www.suede.co.uk/