At a recent album launch gig for The Blue Hour, Suede made the bravura decision to play only songs from their most recent three albums, all released since their emphatic comeback in 2010. If those initial reformation gigs exorcised some of the demons that saw the strange decline of the band in the late 90s, the albums Bloodsports and Night Thoughts were proof that they had much more to say. Now that accidental trilogy comes to a close with The Blue Hour, an album that ought to be regarded as a creative peak for Suede, easily reaching the heights of their 90s best.
Musically, Suede’s decision to ignore the demands of radio and Spotify algorithms seems have been a great unshackling. With the core songwriting duo of Brett Anderson, Richard Oakes and Neil Codling all working together rather than sharing ideas remotely, The Blue Hour is a deeply focussed listen, a sumptuous adventure from the dramatic, choral opener 'As One' onwards.
In 'Life Is Golden' Suede have written a song that really ought to be regarded as one of the best of their entire career. 'Chalk Circles' is a brilliant and audacious, synths and strings conjuring something terrible happening at Avebury during a solstice drum circle - a bleaker echo of brilliant 1996 track 'Europe Is Our Playground'. 'Don't Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You' and 'All The Wild Places' are soaring histrionic pop songs, for of course there's emotion. If anything, Anderson's muse and the accompanying music seem to become more fraught and full of feeling as the band age - the key lyrical theme on this album is of a lost child and the anxiety of the parent. And given that The Blue Hour was written in parallel with Anderson's deeply affecting memoir Coal Black Mornings, it's hard not to make the connection that the lost child is frequently Anderson himself, and that the album is a meditation on the fact that the adult self is always prisoner to the childhood self, with its anxieties and experiences of trauma.
With the highly unusual theme of exploring the deathly grimness and dangers of the countryside to which Anderson has recently moved, The Blue Hour is a record quite unlike any other. Suede remain one of the most distinctive bands that this country has produced in the past few decades, something that unfortunately counts against them. It often seems that having such a distinctive sound - in terms of aesthetic, vocals, and sonic palette - can be a disadvantage when the power of the algorithms against which Suede have rebelled seems to be heralding in an era of beige indifference, shaped primarily by the global hegemony of US popular and celebrity culture. Along the flattened-badgers and soggy-tissue strewn highways and lay-bys of rural England, Suede conjure up a thrillingly twisted antidote.
Share this article:
Fri Oct 05 13:41:05 CEST 201880
An artistic escape to the country risks an aesthetic shift to twee meditations on the joys of wood-burning stoves and sloe picking. However, that was never likely to happen to Brett Anderson of Suede, that most darkly urban of 90s indie groups, who left London for rural Somerset shortly before beginning work on The Blue Hour, his band’s eighth album. As gothic and grand as their 1994 masterpiece Dog Man Star, this is possibly the only mainstream album you’ll hear this year with a massed chorus of monks and spoken-word vignettes, including one about the band’s singer digging up a corpse in the garden with his son. Admittedly this is just a dead bird, but The Blue Hour is a record that explores the twilight atmosphere and dangers of an unsentimentalised countryside.
The record was written simultaneously with Anderson’s memoir Coal Black Mornings, and it’s certainly an emotional and dramatic ride. From the thunderous strings and choir of opener As One onwards, this is an audacious record, stripped of the hand-clapping, guitar-pop ditties with which they made their name. That’s not to say the band have forgotten songwriting – the soaring Life Is Golden touches the heights of past glories such as The Wild Ones. Yet the best moments are when they really push the boat out, either through Richard Oakes’ new-found love of a gargantuan riff or Neil Codling’s deftly integrated string arrangements. Chalk Circles’ ominous guitar lunges, circling synths like carrion crows and ritualistic chanting is Suede at their most eerie, as they evoke a haunted pastoral idyll. Yet it’s succinct at two minutes, before the giddy tremelo of Cold Hands becomes a deluge. In interviews, Suede have said that this is perhaps as far out as they want to go. This vital-sounding high point leaves you wondering what dark riches might be found were they to head even further into the wild.Continue reading...
Fri Sep 21 10:30:21 CEST 201880
Back in the old days, the dim and distant Nineties, Suede albums always reacted against each other. The slutty, sultry art-glam of their eponymous debut was followed by their great, balladeering epic Dog Man Star. Coming Up stopped crying, sharpened its eyeliner and went on a stompy, T.Rex bender, Head Music decided to stop being so brash and lean into moodier, cleverer spaces and A New Morning just wanted to clear its head and breathe (with admittedly mixed results). It was a manifesto of opposition to themselves, as much as to anything else.
Since Brett Anderson reassembled the Coming Up/Head Music line-up and dragged Suede back into the limelight, that manifesto has changed. 2013’s Bloodsports was a band reestablishing their home turf and 2016’s Night Music built out from there, spooning the darker, grander Suede into those base-elements. Now we have The Blue Hour, which uses its predecessor as a stepping stone, expanding its corners, blackening its tone and dragging it into a terrifying hellscape of brambles and frozen earth, out beyond the suburbs and the ring roads.
The result is the darkest and most swooningly elegiac Suede album since Dog Man Star, and arguably the most imaginative and interesting of their career. Here Anderson and co explore monstrously dramatic spaces filled with gregorian chants, snippets of dialogue and Bernard Herrmann strings, while keeping some of the sex and spit that make Suede, well, Suede. The greatest strength of The Blue Hour is that it can be as glowering and atmospheric as opener ‘As One’, which channels Carmina Burana and the heaviest guitar sound of the band’s career, and then follow it with a plum sparkler like ‘Wastelands’, a song which could sit comfortably on any Suede album. When Brett sings “where the horror in us fades and the children in us play” we know exactly what he means. It puts you through the ringer, this record. You need those moments.
The Blue Hour take us to the edge of darkness and back, flirting with a very British gothic horror, like a musical take on Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England or Jaques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon. It’s there on the cold synths of ‘Chalk Circles’; in the stark poetry and discordant soundscapes of the album’s lynchpin,‘Roadkill’(“flesh beneath my flesh, soil beneath my soil… today I found a dead bird”); on the pulling, aching tension of ‘Tides’. The English countryside seems to terrify rather than calm Anderson; the brambles scratch, the frozen earth is bitter, the world is full of shadows. There’s a missing child, a dead bird, and something buried in the woods that could be either of them. It’s a remarkable thematic achievement.
It’s also, thankfully, always a Suede album and those very familiar ticks and sparkles, the pinwheeling guitars, the boom-tat-tat-boom-tat kick and snare pushes and snaking basslines are all in place. Whenever the woods close in around us the band have the sense to throw us a light. ‘Cold Hands’ is classic hip-shaking Suede, right up to Brett’s “oooooo-ooooo-oooo-ooooh” falsetto in the chorus and “I kicked at the chalk under vermillion skies” comes recognisably from the same brain that gave us “an elegant sir in a terylene shirt”. There’s also some staggeringly beautiful moments here: recent single ‘Life is Golden’ wraps its fist around your heart and pumps it for you, as your eyes fill with tears (“you’re not alone, look up to the sky and be calm, your life is golden”). It’s one of the best things they’ve ever done. ‘Beyond the Outskirts’ explodes into one of those gloriously swoony Suede choruses, and the tumbling strings of ‘All The Wild Places’ balance the despair and beauty that sits at the heart of the album and, indeed, the band. A thorny, earth-stained treasure.
Wed Sep 26 17:26:48 CEST 201860
After marking their comeback from an 11-year hiatus with 2013’s perfectly good but unsurprising Bloodsports, Suede were rather more adventurous with 2016’s cinematic Night Thoughts. The Blue Hour, their eighth album, takes that approach a step further. Intended to be listened to as a whole, rather than as 14 discrete songs, there’s even a storyline loosely underpinning it. As concept albums go, it doesn’t have the clearest narrative arc, although piece together the lyrics, snatches of speech and field recordings (one of which features frontman Brett Anderson’s five-year-old son), and a tale of a missing child emerges from the gloom.
Even though his songwriting is more informed by the countryside than seedy urban landscapes now that Anderson has relocated to Somerset, it’s the seamier side of rural life that he zeroes in on, most notably on Flytipping and the jarring, Velvets-indebted Roadkill. Indeed, his lyrical preoccupations remain pleasingly constant: Wastelands and Beyond the Outskirts could have taken their names from a rudimentary Random Suede Song Title Generator. Musically, the use of a choir and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra give a lushness to the arrangements, and underline how far they’ve travelled since their commercial peak in the 1990s. Dark and absorbing, The Blue Hour is never dull, although in an age of playlist-friendly immediacy it’s hard to imagine its appeal stretching far beyond already committed fans.Continue reading...
Sun Sep 23 09:00:18 CEST 2018