Album review: Suede: Bloodsports

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BACK in 1962, The Beatles were infamously passed over for a Decca record deal in favour of Brian Poole & the Tremeloes, the soon-to-be-Fab Four sent packing with the immortal dismissal that “guitar groups are on the way out”.

Suede: Bloodsports

Suede LTD, £12.99

***

That A&R department had cause to rue the day within a matter of months, but where are yer Beatles now, eh? The Tremeloes, on the other hand, are still touring.

Because, as we now know with the benefit of 50 years of rock’n’roll hindsight, being in a guitar band means never having to say goodbye. Au revoir, maybe, but never adieu. Some, like our plucky Tremeloes, just never gave up the ghost in the first place. Others, like Suede, burn brightly, fade out, lie low and come back.

Unlike The Tremeloes, Suede were pack leaders back in their day, presaging but standing apart from Britpop with their Bowie/Smiths blend of glam indie charisma, always teetering on the precipice of pretension but inspiring for a time an intense ardour that only a chosen few groups ever achieve.

Yet the fans didn’t keep the faith through the leaner artistic years and the band eventually fizzled out with their unfortunately named 2002 album A New Morning. Frontman Brett Anderson reunited with original Suede guitarist Bernard Butler for an underwhelming stint as The Tears, then undertook an erratic solo career.

No subsequent work has come close to recapturing the fire of Suede at their mid-1990s peak and – despite ecstatic live reports of this reunited post-Butler line-up of Anderson, guitarist Richard Oakes, keyboard player Neil Codling and rock-solid rhythm section Mat Osman and Simon Gilbert – neither does Bloodsports, which finds the band in pugilistic rather than inspired form.

According to Anderson, the incentive in making a sixth album was to rescue the reputation of the band. So at least there are stakes. But I would argue that Suede made their reputation with their first three albums, and reuniting with the producer of those albums, Ed Buller, only sets up great expectations which they are unlikely to meet.

Bloodsports is at least a more auspicious entry in the Suede canon than A New Morning, featuring ten wham-bam songs exploring “the endless carnal game of love” which broadly follow the trajectory of a relationship – even though Anderson has already admitted that he’s not sure what one track is even about.

Anderson’s lyrics increasingly became one of Suede’s weakest links first time round. The over-fanciful adjectives have not been entirely excised from the game – nuclear skies and the like have simply been replaced by “aniseed kisses and lipstick traces” and “lemonade sipped in Belgian rooms” (believe it) on opening salvo Barriers, a sufficiently serviceable “this love is different because it’s ours” warmer-upper.

There are more aniseed kisses and similar sentiments attached to Snowblind, suggesting that Anderson only has one mode for exploring the ecstasy of love at its smitten peak. However, he sounds in fine lusty vocal form, complemented by some robust Marr-like guitar licks.

The belligerent single It Starts And Ends With You, about surrendering to the whirlwind of love, is executed with a triumphal flourish but the group find a more intriguing way to flog that horse on Sabotage, which rides in on a big synthesiser hook and some stadium-issue guitars. Oakes continues to channel The Edge on For The Strangers, supported by Osman’s melodic bassline, while Anderson goes into simile overdrive about “lips like semaphore … stings like aerosol”.

Up to this point, Suede are paying lip service to their pomp pop sound so it’s a relief to behold such a direct strike as Hit Me, easily the biggest pop chorus of the album, executed with a soaring confidence. Next, they move seamlessly from invincibility to vulnerability on Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away, a rather majestic expression of surrender which spirals into outright melodrama with Anderson’s widescreen vocal reach and some ominous organ stabs.

The heavily reverb-soaked piano ballad What Are You Not Telling Me? doesn’t need to express much more than that pained question but Anderson can’t resist layering on the winsome imagery like a Britpop Terrence Malick. He settles down a bit on the stately Always but invests the promise that “I will always be near” with a stalkerish edge before going out with a typically booming, chest-puffing vocal on the unapologetically bombastic Faultlines.

The rest of the band join in the big finish with wall-of-sound drums and some big-guns guitar work, committing completely to the performance to ensure that Bloodsports is a handsome sounding album. If only the content matched up to the intent.