Suede, Neil Pop Lifer’s favourite band of all time, have returned to the pop fray after a decade’s absence with a fine new record, “Bloodsports”. A week ago we ran the first of a personal, passionate two part blog on our life as a lifelong Suede fan, including fresh insights from Brett and Mat. The next part will follow soon. But in the meantime we are thrilled to run a full interview with Suede’s Brett and Matt discussing the genesis of “Bloodsports”, followed by a track by track preview/review of the new album.
Interviewing the band
“There’s no assumptions any more, certainly no assumption we will make another record.” Brett Anderson explains, when asked if Suede’s first album in a decade is intended to be a last hurrah or the start of another new phase in his band’s extraordinary and convoluted history. Although there are occasional flashes of his old prickliness, the Brett Anderson of 2013 seems a lot more breezy than he did when he last promoted a Suede record, 2002’s critically and commercially shunned “A New Morning.”
“I’ve really enjoyed coming back to this,” bassist Mat Osman expands, “and one reason is because it hasn’t been a process that just moves along automatically without us actually deciding to do things.”
“That’s where it starts going wrong, when you start doing things because they’re expected of you,” Brett says. “Though that was our fault,” Mat laughingly points out. “We built that machine around us!”
In a way, it’s surprising to find Brett and Mat – friends and bandmates over three decades – quite so relaxed. After all, a new Suede record hasn’t had so much to prove since 1996’s “Coming Up” was released after their traumatic break up with original guitarist Bernard Butler. “Bloodsports” could be a last chance to redeem themselves after the colourless “A New Morning” and – maybe maybe – to remind the world they deserve a bigger chapter in the pop history books than their current footnote as appetiser to the main Britpop feast. Yet they seem almost nonchalant about whether “Bloodsports” will be another of their glorious victories, critically or commercially. “I’m much more realistic about what records are nowadays. I used to think every record we did was absolutely brilliant,”Anderson smiles wryly. “But I do think this is a fine record.”
As lifelong, obsessive Suede fans (see part 1 of our blog on life as a teenage Suedehed) we are delighted to report that Brett is an unworried man with much to be unworried about. Though he seems reluctant to spell it out, “Bloodsports” is a huge return to form. Not quite a return to the breathtaking form Suede reached on their second record, the fearlessly ambitious and beautiful “Dog Man Star”, but far better and more consistent than their last two efforts.
Anderson, perhaps at publicist’s gunpoint, has described the record as a cross between “Dog Man Star” and “Coming Up”, but the truth is that “Bloodsports” sounds like something entirely new in the Suede canon. While it occasionally wanders into the same epic territory as “Dog Man Star” (notably on “Sabotage” and “Faultlines”) and sometimes echoes the chiming catchiness of “Coming Up” ( “It Starts And Ends With You” and “Hit Me”) it’s actually a more organic, less self-conscious and rawer record than either.
“We wanted it to sound like a band playing, definitely, we didn’t want some overly orchestrated record,” Anderson confirms. “We really wanted to capture the energy of being on stage. Our live sound just works, it’s really primal.”
Mat nods agreement. “There was a real sense when we came back in 2010 and did the Albert Hall reunion show that we’d kept it tight, the five of us. The first time you get back on stage you remember what it’s like to have that fucking massive racket going on behind you and 10,000 people jumping up and down in front of you. And it’s a great thing to try and capture.”
“I listen to bootlegs of our songs and I think “fuck, I wish we’d recorded it like that,”” Anderson observes ruefully. “Especially the first album, it just didn’t capture – sonically – the depth or power of the band at all. You know, you get a band in the studio in the studio for the first time and everyone thinks they’re making “Sergeant Peppers”. And it takes time to get that stuff out of your system, to work out what you do well. But that’s what “Bloodsports” is, an album made by a live band. It comes out of two years of playing and playing and playing.”
Which isn’t to say that it had a painless birth. While Anderson didn’t push himself to the hallucinogenic or psychological extremes he did during the myth-shrouded genesis of “Dog Man Star” he admits “Bloodsports” was “a very long and hard record to make.” The famously rabid Suede fanbase (see Matt Lucas satirising them here on Shooting Stars during Suede’s heyday) have already made much of the fact that many early songs the newly reformed band wrote were abandoned during recording.
“I’m always a bit worried when we talk about this. It’s a bit like this interview,” Mat says, pointing at our notepad. “When you write it up you won’t include all the “um”s and the “ah”s. And that’s all that those songs were, the ums and ahs of the album, the bits that didn’t quite work.”
“The editing process is a fascinating thing. It’s amazing how you can put something on a record or leave it off and it completely changes the mood,” Brett adds, thoughtfuly. “Sometimes an album is defined by its weakest moments. There’s lots of things I regret about what we’d done in the past…” he may be thinking of, say, “Elephant Man” or “Streetlife”, at this point, “…and if we’d had more of a critical filter we wouldn’t have done them. Well, we’ve applied a fine critical filter to this record.”
Longtime producer Ed Buller is clearly a crucial component of this filter –it’s notable that he presided over the band’s first three triumphs but was absent for the last two patchier efforts. “Ed will tell me straight out to go away and write a new part to a song. And I don’t make snap judgements any more because I always think songs are perfect when I’ve written them,” Anderson laughs. “Ed is a bit more objective and if I go away and think about it, sometimes I can see what he means. If you’re going to work with someone you have to learn to trust their judgement, and one of Ed’s great skills is having really good judgement when it comes to Suede.”
“There’s something really interesting about the way that situation works,” Mat confirms. “As a band you spend all of your time waiting for that magic, waiting for the moment when it all gels. And then along comes the producer and he just wants to break it all up into bits. And I used to find that really difficult, but now I quite like it. I like the fact that you have to chip away at songs, bit by bit. I look at how the record would have turned out if Ed hadn’t been involved. It still would have been a really good record…”
“Well, it would have had completely different songs!” Brett interrupts with a barking laugh.
“… it certainly wouldn’t have been as direct,” Mat finishes, grinning. “It’s something he brought to us on “Coming Up” and its something you sometimes have to fight against, but I love something like “It Starts And Ends With You”, which is just relentlessly catchy. Like an Abba or Motown record, there’s no fat.”
“Abba’s a perfect example. Here’s a hook, here’s another hook, until you’re like “Oh my God, I can’t take any more hooks! Here’s another one!”” The old friends are laughing now.
“I’d be proud for this to be the last Suede record,” Mat says, summing up his feelings. “Which I couldn’t really say about the last one. I’d be happy to play it if someone asked “what do you do?””
Does that mean it will be their last? “Yes, it could be our last album. It could be,” Brett says, almost playfully. “Or it might not be. We aren’t ready to make that decision right now, it depends how we feel. But if we do make another record it will be because we really want to.”
Bloodsports – track by track review
1. “Barriers.” Suede album openers have always been statements of intent: “So Young” introduced the passion and romance of the debut, “Introducing The Band” announced “Dog Man Star”s journey into the unknown and “Trash” fanfared the full scale pop assault of “Coming Up”. “Barriers” indicates that “Bloodsports” is going to be an expansive and passionate rock record full of thunderous drums, stadium-sized guitars and intriguing but incomprehensible lyrics. It’s pretty accurate.
2. “Snowblind.” A John Barry-esque guitar flourish and “whoo-hoo” backing vocal in the opening seconds seem to deliberately echo “She”, serving notice that Suede are once again writing the big, brash pop tunes that made “Coming Up” the band’s biggest success and which were so lacking on “A New Morning”. The serpentine melody of the verse sets Brett up for a monster chorus which he delivers with an audible slamdunk. It’s gong to be a bruiser when unveiled live.
3. “It Starts And Ends With You.” A straightforward and brutishly effective Suede rocker, which employs the same two-choruses-for-the-price-of-one trick as “New Generation”. Lyrically it sees Brett return to the sexual infatuation theme that has fascinated him from “The Drowners” through to “Obsessions”. Musically it’s got more hooks than your average butcher’s shop: Brett sells heart, Brett sells meat.
4. “Sabotage”. The oldest song on “Bloodsports” and a return to the frosty sound and imagery that dominate the record. If “Dog Man Star” reeked of autumnal decay, “Coming Up” was pure summer and “A New Morning” was a failed attempt to capture spring’s sweetness then “Bloodsports” is definitely the wintriest Suede record. Disorientating synths, squalling guitars and glum drumbeats are an unsettling backdrop to Brett’s disturbing lyrics about torturing animals and smiling while being hung. “I don’t really know what it’s about,” Brett told us, which might be just as well.
5. “For The Strangers”. The warmest and loveliest moment on “Bloodsports”, built on a chiming guitar line and a sure but subtle melody which opens out into a truly uplifting sing-along-a-Suede chorus. Suede are rarely sweet or simple, but they are both on this, and the lilting “na na na” coda is a big warm hug of a finale. Quite gorgeous.
6. “Hit Me”. The closest the album gets to pastiching old Suede, specifically the “Coming Up” era, “Hit Me” is also the album’s poppiest moment and an obvious second single. Cynical souls might feel that its dirty riff, glam rock rhythm and air-punching melodies are a little contrived, but then the glorious chorus slams you between the eyes and you will probably find that you don’t actually care.
7. “Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away”. From this song on the album audibly steps down a gear, breathes, and becomes more gentle and experimental. The reward is immediate, with this big, gorgeous, billowy tune. There are tantalising echoes of “Picnic By The Motorway” in the psychedelic shimmer and tripped out, honeyed vocal. A heavy rawk interlude at the halfway point seems oddly clumsy and unnecessary, but the song recovers its balance to end with a windswept, epic finale. A triumph.
8. “What Are You Not Telling Me?”. The most unusual and original song on the record, a stark and spooked piano ballad which sounds like nothing else Suede have done before, although “The Next Life” is probably closest. At the point when it blossoms into a desperately sad chorus, Brett’s voice multi-tracked to become a choir of heartbroken ghosts, you realise it could be a lost classic by Brett’s beloved Kate Bush. Another triumph.
9. “Always”. Well, all triumphs end, and it wouldn’t be a late Suede album without at least one utterly forgettable song. “Always” staples some clumsy “oriental” sound effects to a drab rhythm and tops them off with a melody so middle of the road you wish a truck would come along to put it out of its misery. Why oh why?
10. “Faultlines”. Suede albums always close with a sombre ballad and “Bloodsports” is no exception. Actually, “Faultlines” veers dangerously close to blustery in parts, but is rescued by one of the most haunting and insistent melodies Brett Anderson has written in years. A satisfying end to Suede’s most satisfying album in 17 years.