Suede, the androgynous Britpop progenitors and swaggering glam-guitar brutes with a precise touch for both gloriously romantic melodrama and melancholy balladry, have always been a polarising band. Whether it be the occasional drug-addled pomposity of frontman Brett Anderson (eventually leading to Bernard Butler’s less-than-amicable departure), their relentless idiosyncrasy through the form of Anderson’s Bowie-esque animalistic yelping, or merely their histrionic brand of crunching guitar pop and provocative lyrics, they’ve always had their (many) detractors. Conversely, this also explains why the announcement of their reformation in early 2010 was met with such overwhelming fervour from their fanbase, old and new: they share an uncommonly intimate bond with the outsiders of society because they’re outsiders themselves.
The pinnacle of this comeback from an 11-year sabbatical in musical purgatory lies with the much-anticipated release of their sixth album, Bloodsports, dispelling the diffident and uncharacteristic whimper of A New Morning and welcoming an electrifying return to something resembling their formidable mid-’90s form. It’s probably just about the most Suede a Suede comeback album could be, relying on punchy hooks, metallic riffs and Anderson’s iconic soaring swoon with an emphasis on romanticism to match. First and foremost, though, Bloodsports effectively arrests the post-Butler decline, rehabilitates a tarnished legacy and immortalises their outstanding contribution to Britpop and beyond.
‘Barriers’ gets things moving swiftly and defiantly, introducing the classically grandiose melodies and setting the anthemic tone that pervades strongly through the first six tracks. The guitarist-vocalist dynamic has always been the most essential part of Suede’s sound, which Ed Buller’s (who helmed the first three albums) production accentuates here as he brings Anderson’s vocals to the fore over the effervescent riffs laid down by Richard Oakes, who isn’t quite Butler, but his guitar-work transcends pastiche over the course of the album, notably on ‘Snowblind’. Here, Oakes’ ferociously delicious guitar riffs evoke a stadium-ready monster of a track that sounds like it’s wrung out from Coming Up, whilst on lead single ‘It Starts and Ends With You’ he lights up Anderson’s belting chorus with a catchy melody that’s undoubtedly the poppiest and most naturally reminiscent of ’90s-era Suede on Bloodsports.
‘Sabotage’ carries less of an immediate punch, but is a darker, more introspective exploration of Bloodsports‘s primal themes of love, lust and jealousy in a similar vein to ‘Pantomime Horse’. This trend of melodrama flows into the heartfelt lyrics, melancholy bassline and gentle jangling-riffs of the paean to the outcast, ‘For The Strangers’, before the majestically fuzzed-out indie pop of ‘Hit Me’ thrives on the glam-rock rush of an impossibly catchy refrain (“Come on and hit me, with your majesty”) delivered with all the reinvigorated zest of Anderson’s falsetto vocals. There’s even room for a few la la la’s to rival ‘Beautiful Ones’.
The album is not without its faults, however, as the last four tracks are consumed by wallowing balladry – more than fine individually but lumped together they become a tad excessive – which could have easily been rectified by rearranging the tracklist to even out the pacing. Structurally, it’s an all too black-and-white musical inspection of the progression of a relationship.
‘Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away’, beginning the series of romantic crooners, gradually builds into sumptuous crescendos whereby Anderson’s mournful vocals sweep and soar above the instrumentation. The token piano-led ‘What Are You Not Telling Me?’ misses the presence of Oakes’ guitars whilst ‘Always’ begins similarly but its gradual atmospheric rise in intensity elevates the almost palpable melancholy. ‘Faultlines’ draws the curtains on the characteristically transgressive, romantic journey of Bloodsports, epitomising their collectively renewed sense of vitality with it’s stadium-ascending percussion, piano and guitar melodies, before the aching fade leaves Anderson contemplating whether “there is no fear for us to fear.”
In the year that’s shaping up to be the year of the comeback for the golden greats of pop’s past – Kevin Shields, Bowie and Justin Timberlake (worthy of a mention purely for ‘LoveStoned’) are all at it – Brett Anderson and co. still manage to distinctively stand out as the divine beast with achingly honest bedroom anthems that will appeal to both the outcasted adolescents of today and the ’90s generation. If this is to be their swan song, it seems fitting that Bloodsports sees Suede go out with sexually charged, animalistic roars like ‘Hit Me’ and melancholy romantic yearnings like ‘Faultlines’; after all, they are a band based on such dichotomies that will no doubt dazzle and disgust accordingly.