Ah yes, a new Suede album. I don’t know… perhaps we’ve travelled far into nostalgia season. Like some fey, long-distance starship from a cheap-rent sci-fi flick, the indie bands of our youth (or our second youth) start emerging from stasis. Coughing and spluttering awake from deep sleep – the scene right before the crew realise that they’re light years from their destination, and the ship’s computer has picked up a distress signal of unknown origin.
Where-as certain acts previously filed under extinct or dormant have an eye solely upon the heritage circuit – gigs as one last greatest hits karaoke package in lieu of an equitable pension – others bite the bullet and head back into the recording studio. Which isn’t to implicitly query the value of any new material – the recent My Bloody Valentine album being a case in point. It’s not even a particularly recent phenomenon; Wire have been flicking between a going concern and states of disbandment since the late seventies, without any dramatic breach in the quality of subsequent album. And I won’t bore you here, but there are myriad others examples.
I guess the importance of reformation hinges upon creative magic. If it’s an element that’s survived the weightlessness of prolonged hiatus, and continues to be a legitimate facet of how a record meets the listener, it reaffirms the world as an engaging realm. Which is where Bloodsports comes in. It’s certainly not a bad album – it carries that trademark gauche Suede strut, the production (courtesy of Ed Buller, who hadn’t worked with the band since ’96) highly sympathetic. And if not a superior proposition that predecessors Head Music and A New Morning, I think it may become so after a few more listens.
Yet the issue at the heart of this band has always been that of diminishing returns. Because Suede’s début album was a tantalising affair, and their second LP – Dog Man Star – was (and still is) astonishing, as previous articles on this site will attest. And then Bernard Butler flounced off (after waves of provocation, to be fair), and with his exit came the dissolution of the magic. Richard Oakes is a fine guitarist – maybe even Butler’s technical equal – but as a foil for Bret Anderson’s blousy suburban melodrama, he’s a pale imitation. And just as Anderson depended upon Butler’s distinctive fretwork to maintain a level of mystique, without him the lyrical impact suffered that “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” moment. Coming Up, from 1996, was such an anticlimax – not because it’s explicitly poor; rather, this particular listener so wanted to believe that the magic was still there.
So yeah, new Suede. Good for them. They’ve avoided becoming the pastiche that threatened a decade or so back. Just – you know – excuse me if I don’t turn somersaults or run right this very minute to the record store; some acts are arguably better as memories, rather than rattling round some run-down starship metaphor, aeons from anywhere, whilst in the loading deck something alien stirs.
Suede / Barriers