The rakish persona that is Brett Anderson, sometime Britpop nearly-hero, has finally freed itself from on-off musical partnership with Bernard Butler, guitarist of Suede and, latterly, The Tears. A decade and a half since Suede’s debut, Anderson here follows fellow Britpop refugee Jarvis Cocker in releasing his debut solo offering in his 40s. Is there, as there was for Cocker, a life post his past? And does anyone still care enough to listen?
This record suggests he harbours an ability to string a song together. Dust And Rain and Intimacy, while repetitive, are each as catchy as Suede’s better output, and Scorpio Rising’s balladry suggests it could best be placed as a love theme in a James Bond film of the same name, whatever it’s about – and extra marks get snaffled for including a flute solo. His voice still croons as well as anyone, tuneful and with character to spare.
But at no point does this suggest an ability to get up and go. It’s a reflective, melancholic affair of wistful guitar strumming, sad strings and pasted-on backing vocals. It is not an album for parties, but then it is the work of Brett Anderson. Thus it runs in third gear from beginning to end, never daring to break the speed limit. The ride is comfortable, safe, not too bumpy. Yet a change of pace, even once, would make this record so much more memorable than it is.
For every moment of suggested talent – the epic, production-drenched sprawl of Song For My Father is a brave closer – there’s a counterpoint that throws up questions, with a toe dipped in tedium especially around the saggy middle. Some of the lyrics, when they’re about anything discernible, don’t work as well as they should. “Even tried the operator,” he warbles unconvicingly on To The Winter. Who tries operators these days? Does he mean directory enquiries? At least he references the “plastic dinosaurs” of Crystal Palace – surely a first. But as the song ambles along at a pedestrian pace, it’s difficult not to hanker after the inescapable riffs and strident arrangements of Suede’s material at the peak of their success.
So there are some tracks worth downloading, but this is a record for completist fans. While his contemporaries Cocker and Damon Albarn achieved lasting success and continued to grow as artists, diversifying their sound as they went, Anderson appears content to remain with a guitar-led indie template that’s tried and tested. Whether it’s the beginning or the end of a career remains to be seen – for nostalgia’s sake it’s to be hoped it works out as he wants it to.