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Brett Anderson
Wilderness Luke Turner , August 1st, 2008 15:18

Brett Anderson - Wilderness

Posterity has been unkind to Brett Anderson. While his contemporaries Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher are, respectively, urbane telly pundit, globetrotting troubadour and multimillionaire bloater, the former Suede front man has become viewed as something of a laughing stock, a caricature of a drug-addled, arrogant fop. The Tears and his first eponymous solo album might have played well with the devotees (and Suede were always a band to inspire the most intense devotion), but it was hard to see him reaching an audience beyond his fanbase. Could Wilderness, then, be the moment of restoration?

Often overshadowed by the musicianship of Bernard Butler, Anderson’s accomplishments on piano and acoustic guitar throughout Wilderness are welcome, if surprising. Partnered with the excellent cello of Amy Langley, they make for a world-weary and at times mournful backing that gives Wilderness an identity distinct from any of his past work. Yet this might have come to nought without the transformation in Brett Anderson’s voice. Gone is the Bowie-esque nasal whine that (wrongly) put so many off Suede, to replaced by smoother tones that, with the comfortable musical whole, create an air of thoughtful sadness, even humility and regret.

Anderson has been more harshly criticised for his lyricism than many of his peers, and while on Wilderness there are lines that might be considered clunkers (“clowns / faces with painted frowns”, for instance) his pen generally holds up well. He continues to enjoy singing to portraits of ladies: ‘The Empress’, a woman who is “strange and solemn / with lips like cherry blossom” asks, via Anderson’s vocals dripping with an air of resignation, “didn’t I smile for the cameras?” On ‘Back To You’ Anderson is joined by Emmanuelle Seigner for an excellent, noirish duet, a faded star drunken and bedraggled on a chaise-longue long after the lights have come on. Suede’s kohl-eyed urban wastrels have grown up, their glamour faded but, to Anderson, still fascinating.

The high point of Wilderness, and the track that most suggests that to write off Brett Anderson is a mistake, is ‘Blessed’. With simple rolling piano and sumptuous, velveteen chorus it is, dare we say it, up there with his finest songs. Lyrical staples abound (“London’s wilderness”, and so on), but lines like “when you smile / then I am blessed” are delivered with a sincerity that suggests Anderson no longer needs to rely on terelene glamour and languid fornication to get his romanticism across.

This is not a record by the same the man who I saw onstage during the Coming Up tour eleven years ago (the moment when, arguably, Suede hit the skids), smacking his arse and grimacing, flicking cigarette ends into the crowd. If Anderson can continue in this vein, we could be looking at the rehabilitation of an artist whose uniqueness has all-too-often been forgotten. Wilderness is a subtle, well-executed album that should go a long way in bringing Brett Anderson back from the desert.