There are times when setting and context are everything, and so it proves to be with Brett Anderson’s second solo offering, Wilderness. It’s an album that works much better savoured alone in your front room than it does played live in a concert venue.
Some of this is because listening to the album alone, the songs that comprise Wilderness aren’t competing against more familiar old favourites you know Brett will play after the interval. On the other hand, it’s also because Wilderness is a very personal, very intimate album and that means it works best when it’s just Brett, alone on the piano (apart from a cellist), and you, basking in one another’s company.
A long and sometimes torturous route has led us here. Chemical-fuelled love affairs, desperate dreams, an aborted return to the glory days with Bernard Butler, and a final realisation that he’s better off alone. Classically tinged but also relatively minimalist, Wilderness is pure indulgence: almost certainly uncommercial but equally unapologetic, a labour of love that can be traced back as far as the four-track EP that fell between the eponymous first Suede album and its overblown but glorious successor Dog Man Star.
It was with The Living Dead and My Dark Star that Anderson lifted Suede out of Britpop’s spiky guitars for the first time and laid the foundations for the album he parades before us now. Whoever would have thought, then, that the taxis we caught to the edge of the city would lead us to grand pianos, classical strings, the Royal Festival Hall, the Mermaid Theatre and a sound suspended somewhere between Britpop and classical chamber ballads?
But here we are, nearly two decades later, older and wiser as a middle-aged, respectable Brett tinkles the ivories in terribly respectable venues while a terribly nice girl pulls the bow across cello strings. This is where we live now. As Brett says on the track of the same name, he is blessed.
Wilderness’s songs are safe and comfortable, warm and comforting. There are moments when memories of the old Brett shine through, like on The Empress, whose lyrics include the line, ‘She is strange and solemn, she is like cherry blossom’, a play on words that could be found on any of his previous works, but generally you get the feeling that life these days is a bit more simple than that. Even the hippy tripiness of Funeral Mantra seems to come from a world of anti-Suede, a parallel universe filled with incense and joss sticks rather than concrete and mini-cabs.
Somewhere along the line, there’s a sense that the asphalt world Brett once lived in has been left behind for comfortable tree-lined suburbia, with a nice garden, a landscaped park at the end of the road and room for a piano. The most shocking thing is, of course, that you’ve made the same journey, and you’re quite happy to share the easy life with him now. Is this is the crafty message hidden in the chords of Back To You, disguised as a straight duet with Emmanuelle Seigner?
At the final judgement, Wilderness is a slow burner, a gentle and fragile album stripped of the raw emotion of earlier Anderson efforts but no worse for that. The music is happy and content, the sound of both success and the comfort of being established enough to make an album entirely for yourself. Curl up with it and smile: you know as well as he does that you’d rather be in a comfortable seat than the mosh pit of the Town and Country. You’ve both earned it.