Suede* is the band that many forget actually kickstarted (or possibly hotwired) Britpop. Night Thoughts is Suede’s seventh album and only the second since their welcomed reunion in 2010, a bit close on the heels of 2013’s Bloodsports. For fans who started to lose interest after Coming Up, this may well be the album to lure them back into the fold.
As singer Brett Anderson explained in an interview recently, Night Thoughts is a deeply personal album, inspired by his relationship with his father after becoming a father himself, rather than a collection of stories. “It’s much less fictionalized,” he said. “In the early days I used to have all this sort of string of people that were somehow part of my own private soap opera, my little collection of fictional characters. With this…obviously it’s more personal, about real people in my life rather than imaginary people.”
Night Thoughts’ songs flow into each other seamlessly in an atmospheric, moody swirl, providing the soundtrack to the accompanying feature film by acclaimed UK music photographer Roger Sargent. The film is a series of powerfully bleak vignettes about despair, difficult family relationships, loneliness, child loss, violence, and suicide. The hoodie-wearing, bearded antihero of the film is a barely middle-aged man who has simply had enough.
If you are of the camp that finds Brett Anderson’s melancholy, louche, vulnerable vocals to be pleasing (and some don’t, describing it as an acquired taste, like Marmite), you will have every opportunity to wallow in a full range of dark emotions. Although a new dad with a quieter life, he has lost none of his abilities as the poet laureate of twisted, complicated relationships. Self-doubting romantic pessimism bordering on Morrissey’s but delivered with Bryan Ferry-grade disappointed heartache recurs throughout the album. The soaring, longing “Tightrope” conveys anxious frustration at the unraveling of emotional ties (“Walking a tightrope with you / too scared to look down through my fingers”), and “Fur and Feathers” succinctly nails aching ambivalence: “I’m so scared of touching you / but I’m scared to not.” The sheer bleakness of “Pale Snow” may well kill a lesser soul on a cloudy winter day.
The dreamy “Outsiders,” “No Tomorrow” (with its defiantly uplifting refrain “Fight the sorrow”), and first single “Just Kids” provide welcome pop relief in the clammy darkness. There is even a surprise nod to Crass on “Learning to Be.” Richard Oakes’s empathetic baroque guitar work, razor-sharp riffs and shadowy landscapes interwoven with Neil Codling’s keyboards, particularly on “I Don’t Know How to Reach You,” might inspire still-aloof original fans to accept that yes, he really has been part of the family for ages now. After all, Richard took over as guitarist from guitar god Bernard Butler over two decades ago, with enormous boots to fill at a young age. The endless Rebecca-like comparisons to Bernard that Richard has had to endure year after year should surely cause him to have automatic sympathy for all second wives everywhere.
Night Thoughts’ more mature, less druggy, and less sexually intense but still plenty doomed new offerings give longtime and recent listeners another reason to be grateful that Suede are back with us again. Think of it as a late Christmas present.
*called the London Suede in the US because of a textbook frivolous lawsuit brought by some nobody lounge singer