Listening to Blur’s new single “Under the Westway” was an experience dominated by dashed expectations. Practically hovering several inches above the ground in my anticipation to hear a new Blur recording – a NEW BLUR RECORDING – I was smacked down to Earth as the first few dreary bars of a so-and-so ballad filtered through my speakers. Where had all the art-punk fury gone? The subversive, manic lyrics that stomped over gender stereotypes, middle class materialism, bored, kinky housewives and the impracticalities of getting your head shaved by a jumbo jet? It’s not that “Under the Westway” is a bad song, but considering the glittering heights of Blur’s ‘90s output, I’d rather listen to the cries of Noel Gallagher begging the crack dealers up on Kensington Road for his talent back.
Hence, naturally, while I had no problem with Suede cashing in on some well-deserved pop nostalgia with a reunion tour and a repackaged Best Of, the idea of a new album was anathema. But there was also a scintilla of hope. This wouldn’t be the first time Suede gatecrashed a stagnant scene. Back in 1993 British pop was at an absolute nadir, Nirvana’s sludged-up, punk wailings steamrolling over relics like Duran Duran, so washed up you’d have thought they had just been scooped up from the depths of Lake Burley Griffin. Enter Suede, demimonde sleazers, beautiful wasters, their Smiths-cum-Bowie glam rock providing teeny boppers with an elegant soundtrack to getting high. It was artful, it was clever, and with Brett Anderson’s subversive lyrics about kissing other boys to the popular tunes – and his even more provocative stage trick of slapping his buttocks with the mic – Suede were the touch of Jesus to Brit Pop’s bloated corpse.
Pity they were as fucked up as their music. After kicking out his formative songwriting partner and all-round seminal guitarist, Bernard Butler, Brett Anderson slipped into a needle-induced coma and the band quickly feel into stagnation, ousted by the middle-class-brat punk of Blur and the laddish populism of Oasis. But despite all expectations to the contrary and having squandered the noughties with a series of small-scale solo albums, Brett Anderson has reassembled the post-Butler lineup and has released an album that captures all the gloom, dissolution and pop brilliance of those early records. After 11 years in the wilderness, Suede is well and truly back with Bloodsports.
On its own the soaring opener “Barriers” justifies the resurrection. Piercing lines of guitar blur into an anthemic squall as Brett brays out the chorus line. Follow-up “Snowblind” is just as good, if not better, Suede’s newfound confidence etched into every note of the swelling, bursting melody. So far, so great, but it’s not until track three, the lead single “It Starts and Ends with You,” that the band show whether they can match their glorious records from the ‘90s? With a rat-a-tat of Simon Gilbert’s drums, Richard Oakes’ guitar explodes into a seasick buzzing, before Brett Anderson’s Byronic croon washes all before him in a swathe of everyday images smashed with all the puritanical glee of a true iconoclast. Obsessive, melodic and with a outro as catchy as syphilis, “It Starts and Ends with You” could have gone head to head with any of Suede’s output in the early years.
Onwards, and while nothing can hope to match the first three tracks, “Sabotage,” “For the Strangers” and “Hit Me” are in themselves a hat trick of great pop gems, stacked with bristling guitars and Brett Anderson’s distinctive mewl, as weird as compulsive to listen to. The whole thing almost sounds too easy, like Suede just found a bunch of old tracks culled from the gothically elegant Dog Man Star and trashy pop decadence of Coming Up. Alas, it is all too good to be true and the ballads of side two cannot hope to rival the anthemic highs of side one.” What Are You Not Telling Me” is a throwaway, Anderson’s voice as effervescent as the ideas that barely carry it to the halfway mark. But “Always” is a creepy, ghoulish ode to obsession, well worth the listen, and “Sometimes I’ll Just Float Away” is charming enough to pull Suede over the finish line to victory. Forget Blur, forget Oasis, forget aging gracefully. Suede are back to take their rightful place at the top of Brit Pop.