, March 15th, 2013 10:46
"I've always thought that the strangest thing I've ever heard is 'we're making music for ourselves and if anyone else likes it it's a bonus'. Why did you fucking release it then?" said Suede bassist Mat Osman when I interviewed him for the Quietus recently. "We're making music for other people, and if we like it it's a bonus."
It's a typically Suede statement, sniffy and arch, the sort of thing that has always made them stand out a country mile from their peers, and those who have come since... that alternately buffooning, coarsely male, thick fingered, skiffling, asexual indie shower of inadequacy that largely characterises British indie music. Osman's statement is something to bear in mind when listening to Bloodsports, Suede's first album since the poor A New Morning in 2002. They might have made this album for other people... but who exactly are the Suede diaspora in 2013?
Since Bernard Butler left nearly 20 years ago, there's always been a sense that Suede are damned if they don't, damned if they do. After that initial golden shower from the weekly music press, they've not exactly had an easy ride - shunned by America, easily ridiculed, and often by those who were first fans in the Suede and Dog Man Star era. A band whose early material defined obsession, infatuation, and finding a hormonal teenage identity is always going to get it in the neck from those who once thought of them most dearly. Lovers fear change, and are spiteful when spurned.
I was late to the Suede tribe, and far more a Coming Up black leather jacket, Codling and Bennies boy than willowy, blousy, disciple of Bernard-driven histrionics. I liked Suede's sex when it was violent, snide, and about the sharp and aggressive highs and lows. If you're that kind of Suede fan too, then you're going to love Bloodsports, for it takes the DNA of Coming Up, matures it, and flings in some of the best pop songs that Suede have ever written.
The success in part must be due to Ed Buller's flawless production. No doubt putting down the crack pipe and fags has helped Anderson's voice no end, and throughout Bloodsports it beds into the music just-so. As Anderson said in our recent interview, his vocal is probably one of the things that makes Suede such a Marmite band, but for those who prefer a passionate, English treble to lowly faux-American mumble, it's nigh-on perfect here as it carries a thoughtful, petroleum-free narrative arc. For a band who always dealt in the romantic, Suede's lyrics were always rather oblique, Anderson writing to a character/s, then later arguably a caricature/s. Instead of "Sadie", "young men" and the other portraits who made up the 1990s material, here the songs describe the cycle of a relationship, the ecstasy of initial intimacy, mistrust, betrayal, loss, paranoia.
Given that 'Barriers' was the song that finally broke Suede's writer's block, it's apt that it opens the album, and is the first of many earworms here - a great, galloping statement of intent. Behind him, Suede are on form - Richard Oakes plays the best guitar of his life, with a lot more low end (perhaps because Anderson's voice is now a fuller beast) and nicely controlled solos. 'Sabotage' is radio-friendly Suede, swooping choruses "I'd walk to the scaffold smiling / my hands on the cross I'm holding", a choir of guitar noise and 'ahh ahhs' in the background. Following track 'For The Strangers' is just as good, a partner to Coming Up's 'By The Sea', but with a thousand times more positivity. I can see 'Snowblind' putting off people a little, given that its opening chords are a bit too reminiscent of 'Starcrazy', but this too is rescued by a splendid chorus, though the finest of these is reserved for 'It Starts And Ends With You'.
Musically, one of the best aspects to Bloodsports is just how well the songs are arranged. Never just linear, they come and evolve with great panache. Take 'Hit Me', which starts off all thuggish Telecaster riff before a huge, spidery chorus. It all really comes into its own on the second half of the album, which, as with Dog Man Star, features the moodiest, most romantic work. Best of all is 'Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away', opening with a echoey guitar part and a pensive Anderson vocal that suddenly becomes more urgent ("I'll count to ten as the race begins...") and an utterly, utterly beautiful chorus appears as if in an MDMA rush, "sometimes I'd float away... if you weren't there to hold me". Triumphant and massive, it's one of the finest songs Suede have ever written. 'What Are You Not Telling Me' is a mournful everything-going-wrong ballad ("the mysteries of love are not for us") with multi-tracked vocals and almost Spanish-plucked guitar. 'Always' starts slow and ends in a whirlpool of what might be threats "I will always be near... like a sniper in the wings", and ends with Anderson's voice processed into a strangled murmur. Final track 'Faultlines' is booming and cinematic.
The joy of Bloodsports is in what its title suggests, an embracing of convoluted, dark, twisted narrative between now and then, both in terms of the relationship of the lyricism and Suede's own journey. They've arrived at a romantic, odd, ambitious pop record that eschews musical theatricality for punchy, 40-something's take on the complexity of love from the view - and this is why it works - of one who is still, at heart, an incurable and incorrigible teenage romantic. Brett Anderson, after all, wrote some of the great overblown Byronic lyrics of indie pop "there by the window, quietly killed for you" and so on. Those were penned - as romance should be - without over thinking things, and Anderson is still collapsing over himself in simile and metaphor ("a crack in the radiator / leaking life") that comes with all-consuming passion. You know, there's another band from slightly before Suede's era who've basically managed to go "oooo oooo oooo... ... .... ooooo ooooo oooooo" with a phoned-in performance of leftover dirge from 1992 and they're being feted from the heavens, while Suede have to punch through the cynicism. You can also hear just how hard they've worked throughout - less blood sport, more blood, toil, tears and sweat. But such is their lot.
Suede, being a band who offered you their own hermetically sealed world to live and lose yourself in, were always going to be about redefining themselves rather than starting to wander into more experimental musical territories. Yet they do what they do so damn well, that's the key, like encountering a lover who blew your mind on the first night and continues to do so every night still, three years on. Their individualism is such that, 20-odd years on from the release of their debut single, there are no other groups who've been obviously inspired by them or have ripped them off. Indeed, Suede are such a unique group that no-one has quite been able to copy what they do - and this at times aggressively idiosyncratic nature is undeniably why they're also so loathed by so many. I can't imagine they'd have it any other way.