Suede’s 2013 comeback album, Bloodsports, was a schizophrenic record that didn’t know whether to be slow and contemplative, or playfully snarky. At times, it was an excellent return to form, sparking with winding guitar wizardry and riddled with Brett Anderson’s trademark cynicisms – in places however, it was groaning with hyperbole; clumsy wordplay, whingey vocals, and excessively minimal soundscapes. Sadly, that dichotomy is omnipresent on Night Thoughts, as boredom and excellence wrestle more tumultuously than ever before.
Let’s start with the ‘singles’ – I use quotation marks because, as this is an album with two gapless sides, the ‘singles’ dropped on streaming platforms were tracks ripped straight from the LP, whose transitory ends sounded awful in isolation. (Straight off the bat, for a band with such a good reputation for lavish single packages, things seemed questionable, to say the least.) The first of these tracks was the anthemic Outsiders, proof, if nothing else, that Anderson and co. are determined to continue a fruitless quest at bettering their own Trash to the title of most definitively underdog pop-song. Don’t get me wrong – it was damn good, but it was nothing new. Like Kids, the next track released, is much the same – a crunchy guitar-track characterised by the same brilliant but predictable Suede quirks (discordance, falsetto, yadda yadda yadda). Admittedly, this one got a single sleeve and video, but an equally abrupt album mix was used in its promotion. Finally, in the last week, we were gifted No Tomorrow and Pale Snow – and again, nothing to report.
So, to sum, the lead-up to this record irked me somewhat. Admittedly, this is never a good emotional pretext for the arrival of the final package. Needless to say, I’ve listened through a couple of times now, pushing prejudices aside with as objective an outlook as I can muster. Sadly, however, the kindest thing I can say about Night Thoughts is that, much like its predecessor, a few good numbers save the record from totally sinking – but only just. Unlike Bloodsports, the track-listing is less balanced – there aren’t six good tracks here, for six naff ones; it’s more like three for nine, a ratio whose only effect can be damaging.
Of the new album tracks, the swaggering What I’m Trying To Tell You is fastest and most complex (unbelievable really, given its relative plod, but anyway); even still, the lyric is a woolly, pseudo-intellectual slice of gâteaux de pretence. Tightrope has a nice chord progression, but it’s ethereal, boring and a horrible drag. Every other track befalls a new, grey despair – plodding tragically at the back of Suede’s entire discography are the dull When You Are Young (needlessly reprised as the barely distinguishable When You Were Young), the offensively obvious I Don’t Know How To Reach You, the horribly boring Learning To Be and The Fur & The Feathers, a train-wreck of a finale, full of dull, jazz affectations and middle-aged whining. Oh and I Can’t Give Her What She Wants – a song so bland, that it was actually an afterthought in this paragraph. Not a single one of these tracks has a defining element – they are all a blur of uninteresting noise.
And another thing: Ed Buller, long-time producer of the band – what on earth happened here? This is the worst mixing I have heard on an album, perhaps ever. Having only streamed Night Thoughts, I can’t say for sure whether it’s some sort of coup against digital music or not – but whatever it is, it just sounds crap. Who okayed this? No album released this side of 2000 should be so badly in need of a remaster. It’s dreadful, really.
There is (*fingers-crossed*), room for me to be wrong in my judgement of this album. Night Thoughts is, technically, a soundtrack album to a short film by acclaimed British director, Roger Sargent – and who knows, maybe its atmospheric hum suits cinema better than it does headphones. Or maybe not – the band were, seemingly, quite involved in the film and, from the looks of things, it’s pretentious rot. So pushing aside that potential saving grace, let’s have it how it is: Suede have hit a low here; it’s not their deepest, certainly, but it’s a low nonetheless. Critics praising this record will no doubt, have plenty to say about Brett Anderson’s introversions and Richard Oakes’ brilliance on guitar – what’s worth remembering however, is its place not just in Suede’s discography, but in the post-Brit-pop canon. Suede aren’t as clever as Pulp and they lack the visceral edge of Placebo; their selling point has always been their fabulousness – their glam. Sacrificing that in pursuit of a more artsy aesthetic was a foolish endeavour – trust me, if not as a reasonable critic, then as perhaps the biggest fan of early Suede that you will ever meet.
When the good-ship Suede was first beached by A New Morning… in 2003, the atmosphere was one of terrible mediocrity. Canadian outlet Jam! hit the nail on the head with their epitaph of a conclusion: “Gone […] is the powerful whine in Anderson’s voice, […] all that’s left are quite silly faux clever lyrics and debatable melodies.” In a lot of ways, the failures of that record were made worse by the lack of objectivity in its criticism; these were not bad songs by any means – they were just bad Suede songs. Night Thoughts is hardly as dislikeable as that former LP, but it has about it, an undeniably foreboding sense. The massive fall-out from A New Morning… killed the band off – for ten years. It hurts me to say it, but I’m having déjà vu.