Britpop had its fair share of winners and losers; there weren’t many that hit the middle ground between just about escaping the genre or completely collapsing under the excess (i.e. Oasis). Suede are a funny case, because although they did collapse under the excess (their main guitarist left the band just before the release of the critically acclaimed Dog Man Star, their frontman, Brett Anderson, got addicted to drugs, and their commercial success disintegrated towards the end of their first era), but they made a comeback and tried to set things right. The result, Bloodsports, was vaguely Suede-like but failed to set the world alight, a bit like Blur’s comeback The Magic Whip, from last year, which has also faded into the distance somewhat. Night Thoughts is a much more conceptual release from the hesitant Suede as they attempt to recover some of what made them so popular back in the 90s as it’s been packaged with a film, which played in the background of their live shows last year. The theme links are semi-related, but it feels more like a gimmicky bonus than anything that will truly extend the experience, which is probably for the best because Night Thoughts is already melodramatic enough.
The drama has always served Suede well, but it only works well when it comes with restraint and sounding less like a discount U2. For example, the opening two tracks brilliantly set up the record, with ‘When You Are Young’ sounding more like the opening credits for some Spielberg epic, making use of cinematic strings that I expect would work very well in context of the feature film that’s bundled with the album. That’s when the Suede you expect come in, disintegrating the strings into an electronic glitch and introducing a huge guitar riff and spaghetti-western drums into the mix. ‘Outsiders’ is so dark and moody you’d half expect it to have come from Interpol’s last album with its guitar line that’ll ring in your head all day and a shuffling bassline that has more in common with post-punk than britpop. Anderson’s vocals have sometimes rubbed me up the wrong way, and it’s no different on Night Thoughts, but the instrumentals can sometimes make up for his melodramatic, reedy voice. That’s the most interesting part of Suede, if you can get past Anderson and his crappy lyrics (which seriously could have done with some polishing on Night Thoughts), there’s a good record underneath.
But where there’s that britpop melodrama leaking in like some battery acid, Night Thoughts becomes Anderson’s show and everything else beneath him has to die. Take ‘Tightrope’, which is more subtle instrumentally. The chorus is all anthemic rock which has more in common with dad-rock than the tightly-knit post-punk of ‘Outsiders’ and it turns back into a very dull affair. The song plods along at mid-tempo with Anderson, a guitar that doesn’t have any of the flair of ‘What I’m Trying To Tell You’, where the instrument has an electric fieriness to it. It’s such a shame every time another ‘I Can’t Give Her What She Wants’ or a ‘No Tomorrow’ turns up bearing some of the blandest guitar music of 2016 so far (though, lets give Suede some credit, it’s only January) with attempt at the anthemic choruses that Oasis were trotting out at the same time back in the 90s. It’s often let down by Anderson singing ‘How long will I shun the race / and sit around in my denim shirts?’ or some equally cringey line, but at least he’s got some consistency in his awkward lyrics. I wouldn’t mind if he was actually saying something, but he isn’t saying a lot of anything.
Narrow Night Thoughts down to EP-length and it might be worth listening to, but there’s too much filler to let the album slide. Considering how well they start the album, its jarring how quickly they slide back into grey rock music. Were Suede better off dead? No, of course not; they ended on a low point commercially and critically so a final sendoff seems like a good idea. But Bloodsports, for all its mixed-bag-ness, did the job. Night Thoughts is just more of the same, with a little bit less of a reunion novelty factor.
Funnel Recommends: When You Are Young / Outsiders / What I’m Trying To Tell You