Album Reviews

Bernard Butler – Good Grief

(355) UK release date: 31 May 2024


A handy reminder that one of rock’s finest collaborators has a pretty strong voice of his own, too

Bernard Butler - Good Grief Bernard Butler certainly hasn’t wasted time since splitting from Suede back in 1994. He has a list of producer credits that stretches back 30 years or so and has released a number of acclaimed collaborative efforts with the likes of David McAlmont, Catherine Anne Davies and Jessie Buckley. When it comes to bona fide solo efforts though, Butler has only released two albums – 1998’s People Move On, and the following year’s Friends And Lovers. Which means that his third solo record, Good Grief, is his first release for 25 years. Good grief, indeed.

It’s a suitable title, as it turns out. Butler has said in recent interviews that the grief he suffered after his father’s death was one of the reasons for leaving Suede and that he’s spent the last quarter of a decade bottling a lot of issues up – issues which are explored in detail on this album. If that makes Good Grief sound like a therapy session, that’s because it kind of is: but in the best possible way.

The first thing you notice is Butler’s voice – when we last heard him on Friends And Lovers, his vocals were a bit thin and reedy, but the 50something’s voice has settled into a deeper, more soulful version. Appropriately enough, it’s a voice that sounds more ‘lived in’ these days, which is perfect these songs of reflection and looking back. The autobiographical nature of Good Grief is clear from the off. The delightfully breezy Camber Sands is an ode to leaving the city for the day to take off to the seaside, while Butler reassures us that “I’m not going to fan the flames, or bore you to tears about the good old days”. Like a lot of songs that Butler’s involved in, it’s beautifully orchestrated, with flashes of his guitar brilliance cutting in every so often.

You probably don’t need to be an expert on the famously tumultuous relationship between Butler and his ex-bandmate Brett Anderson to guess what Pretty D is all about. It sounds very much like an open letter to Anderson: “It’s been 20 years since you broke my heart… I don’t care about the songs they said you wrote about me, and I don’t give a fuck what you really think of me.” It may, or may not, be a coincidence that it sounds like it could easily be on that great break-up album of the 1970s, Bob Dylan‘s Blood On The Tracks.

What’s most noticeable about Good Grief is that Butler’s turned down the emphasis on his guitar. Tracks like Living The Dream are powered along by a big rush of a string section. However, he’s certainly not packed away the Gibson – the brilliant The Forty Foot has a classic Butler solo, while the dramatic London Snow mixes in beautiful orchestration with some typically incendiary guitar playing.

Sometimes, it doesn’t quite hit the mark – the finger-picked acoustics of Preaching To The Choir becomes a bit of a dirge, while Clean feels like it’s about to explode into something epic, but never quite does. Yet the closing The Wind makes for a lovely end to the album (with Butler on surprisingly gruff vocals) and, at only nine tracks long, it never particularly outstays its welcome. It’s also a handy reminder that one of rock’s finest collaborators has a pretty strong voice of his own, too.


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