Bland on the run

Suede: A New Morning **

Epic, 14.99

IT’S HARD to remember, in the aftermath of BritPop, how novel and exciting Suede once appeared. In 1992, they were brilliantly out of place in a moribund British indie scene; all scuffed elegance and sexual conundrums, shameless ambition and great, brash, glam-encrusted songs. For a year or two, their success was almost indecent - until first Blur, then Oasis capitalised on their pioneering work in making classic indigenous guitar music fashionable again.

Suede were too morally perverse, too florid and nowhere near laddish enough, it seemed. And, to make matters worse, after two albums their guitarist and tunesmith Bernard Butler was on his way out of the band. Since then, Suede’s career has been dependent on the whims of their singer, Brett Anderson, steered towards pop rather than rock, and an aesthetic which romanticised picturesquely seedy street life while trying desperately hard not to be too pretentious.

A New Morning, their fifth album, broadly continues that trend. Anderson treks through murky urban puddles, hears "the beat of the concrete street", seeks out the occasional "strange relationship" to satisfy his poetically adventurous libido. The new complication, however, is his recent recovery from drug addiction, which plants shiny happy vignettes like positivity amid the stylised grime. "And the birds sing for you," he glows, a vision of aerobically buffed healthiness.

It is an odd, rather unsatisfying mix, which isn’t helped by Suede’s terrible fear of "alternative" music. Much of A New Morning sounds like a shallow MOR album from the 1980s; a ropey one made by their hero, David Bowie, perhaps. Anderson’s lyrics, meanwhile, could be charitably described as exploiting the potency of clichs, and his detailing - references to Dynasty, Bret Easton Ellis, TCP and girls called Tina - suggest his memories of the 1980s are a lot clearer than more recent ones.

Hints of greatness remain. A pleasing rehash of Animal Nitrate called - what else? - Beautiful Loser, proves their forte is still stroppy rock rather than mawkish ballad. And the boisterous, elegiac Obsessions is their best song in years, with a chorus running, "Obsessions in my head don’t connect with my intellect."

Hardly classic, of course, but in this company it suggests Anderson’s songwriting would be better if he spent more time analysing himself and much, much less blandly mythologising either squalor or, duller still, rehabilitation.