Fans will be pleased that Brett Anderson’s relocation from the
city to rural Somerset has done nothing to soften his dark edge.
Where others might focus on the rolling hills, gambling lambs and warm fireplaces, Anderson is drawn more by the abandoned playgrounds, junk filled wastelands and frozen fields. Furthermore, on The Blue Hour, released 21 September 2018, Suede’s lyricist uses this rural detritus as a metaphor for our contemporary feelings of fear about the state of the world. And then, for added morbidity, he throws a lost child into this hellscape. “It is set in a rural place, it is from the view of a child, and it is about the feelings evoked by the setting… the vulnerability,” he explains in an NME interview on Youtube.
The sleeve cover sums it up: a threatening dark blue sky, a cold wire fence and a rural space filled with junk - next to which a hooded child sits alone.
The Blue Hour, Suede’s eighth album, has been described as the final part of a trio that kicked off with Bloodsports (2013) and continued with Night Thoughts (2016). Produced by the legendary Alan Moulder, the 14 tracks on this album provide plenty of space for guitarist Richard Oakes, drummer Simon Gilbert, bass player Mat Osman, and keyboardist and guitarist Neil Codling to showcase their talents, which at one point includes involvement of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Five singles have already helped make this album their commercially most successful this century.
The album kicks off with the arresting As One, in which desperate adults search through the undergrowth for a lost child as night falls. “Here I am, Talking to my shadows, Head in my hands” Anderson sings in anguish. Gregorian chants mix with heavy guitars as emotions build and the nightmare grows.
This leads into Suede’s most recent single, Wastelands, released 29 October 2018, which could easily be another big anthem to add to their arsenal. The fantasy of running away from urban life and escaping into the wilderness is explicitly expressed in the accompanying video, and the lyric “when it all is much too much, meet me in the wastelands” begs to be sung at Glastonbury, with waving hands aloft.
Beyond the Outskirts is a lovely song with a grand chorus, and extends the idea of fleeing from all the stress and confusion of daily life. Chalk Circles sees Suede invoking darker Druid type chanting, backed up by synthesizers and some great guitar, while Cold Hands sees Anderson employ falsetto in another possible arena-pleaser, as he kicks out “at the chalk under vermillion skies.”
The gloom is tempered by the outstanding Life Is Golden, released as the third single, on 15 August 2018. “You’re not alone, look up to the sky and be calm, your life is golden” Anderson cries, as Richard Oakes takes the song to another level with a great guitar riff, possibly on his Gibson ES-355.
The respite is only temporary however as the spoken-word Roadkill reminds us again that the countryside also contains brutal scenes. The bird Anderson finds has “brittle bones like snapped twigs, Savaged by the tyres and tossed in the tar, Broken in the English dirt, A carcass for the carrying crow”. Here again we are reminded that everything that moves and breathes is vulnerable.
The album closes with three huge cinematic-type string-laced ballads All the Wild Places, The Invisibles and Flytipping. The latter in particular builds to a beautiful crescendo, evoking once more the trashy side of rural life in what is, at the same time, almost a celebration. It’s never made explicit, but perhaps that subtley signals that, in the midst of the nightmare, the child might be found.