After returning in 2013 with the excellent Bloodsports, Suede – minus Bernard Butler, of course – continue their revival with Night Thoughts.
More expansive and ambitious than its predecessor, Night Thoughts comes complete with its own accompanying film, directed by photographer Roger Sargent, and has been compared to Suede Mk 1’s revered second release Dog Man Star.
There are few bands more cinematic than Suede in full flight, so on the face of it the film seems a great idea, but it’s a risky strategy, as visuals can often preclude listeners’ own interpretation of the songs.
Worse still, it could leave the band open to the charge that the music isn’t strong enough to support itself.
Happily this is far from the truth, but while there’s much to enjoy on Night Thoughts, there is a sense here of a band desperately striving for something that remains stubbornly beyond their grasp.
While Dog Man Star, was perhaps overworked and over-produced, this one feels ever so slightly rushed, with a few too many tracks promising much, but ultimately failing to deliver.
Album opener, When You Are Young, is a case in point, it sweeps in with a full orchestral backing, but never really hits the mark. Perhaps intentionally, it feels more like a prelude than a song in its own right.
However. just when you’re thinking surely Suede can do better than this, Outsiders fires up, and they do.
Perhaps the best track on the album, this is good old Suede, an insistent, almost motorik riff, pulls you into the song, with Brett Anderson really extending himself with some larynx-stretching vocals. A beautifully-crafted piece of music.
No Tomorrow is another great track that reminds you of Suede’s early strutting singles, phrases like ‘A cadaver in tracksuit trousers’, showing that Brett has lost none of his flair for lyrical bons mots.
Guitarist Richard Oakes flexes his fretboard muscles wih some mighty arpeggios, as Brett again soars into the ether with a tremulous falsetto.
One of the more experimental songs on the album, Pale Snow starts like a lullaby and then cuts to a strange sparse synthesiser ssection, before rather fizzling out. It all feels a bit unfinished, a pity.
But what follows is a masterpiece. I Don’t Know How To Reach You, is an epic, the emotional heart of the record.
It’s the start of a stretch of powerful songs – What I’m Trying To Tell You, Tightrope and Learning To Be that show Suede at their very best – the engine room of the album.
As befits a band of their longevity, it’s a calmer more reflective Suede than we’ve seen before, with Brett embracing fatherhood and writing with his young son in mind.
All of which, brings us neatly to Like Kids, a song hearkening back to youthful rebellion.
‘Oh, we hold it all in our fist/Like kids, like savages,’ Brett croons. ‘And we’ll run in the playground/If you’ll just stay with me.’
As if to reinforce the point a kids’ chorus comes in to chant Oakes’ descending riff as the song draws to a close.
I Can’t Give Her What She Wants, is an interesting chamber piece, quite different to anything else on the album and featuring one of Brett’s more eliptical lyrics.
Who is this protagonist singing of a lover shunned, then lost?
He weaves his fingers meancing ’round her perfumed throat’, but later turns his ‘attention to the bruise that’s on her fist. He feels ‘the pulse beneath her almost perfect wrist/And the flames are crawling round the note she wrote’.
An impressive, engaging work, perhaps indicative of the direction Suede may be heading in the future.
The final two songs When We Were Young – a nod, perhaps to early single So Young – and The Fur and the Feathers, strive for greatness, but again feel slightly incomplete, not fully realised.
Produced by regular collaborator Ed Buller, Night Thoughts’ 12-tracks segue into one another, presumably to suggest a coherent whole, but for me the more direct Bloodsports, described by Brett as ‘a neat little rock record’. is the more consistent collection.
Not that Night Thoughts is a failure, far from it, and the band should be applauded for pushing the envelope further than the tight blueprint of Bloodsports.
Given that context, a few misfires were perhaps inevitable and, if not a classic, this is still a damn good record.
In a year when we have lost so many of our musical treasures, a fully functioning Suede is still a rare prize indeed. Long may they continue.
Night Thoughts is available now through Warner Music and on iTunes via this link.