At their most urgent, stomping, raucous best, three decades into their career they sound as fresh and exciting as they did at its start
The comeback of Suede has been one of the more welcome, if unlikely, success stories of the past decade. This was a band who, after all, lost their lead guitarist and co-songwriter after their second album, and then spent the reminder of the ’90s in a haze of drugs and acrimony.
It would be one thing had Brett Anderson and company decided to just hop on the ’90s nostalgia train, but what’s impressive about Suede is their determination to make new music which stands alongside their classic period. Anderson has described Autofiction as their “punk album” and it’s certainly their most energetic record since Coming Up.
It’s definitely a complete about-turn from the band’s last album, 2018’s The Blue Hour. Whereas that record was full of lush orchestrations and atmospheric ballads, on Autofiction there’s a sense of going back to the basics of the early ’90s. From the opening track She Still Leads Me On, it’s clear that this is Suede at their most urgent, stomping, raucous best.
Lyrically though, they’re worlds away from the band who used to flirt with the imagery of drug-fuelled gay sex. Which is probably just as well, considering the band are firmly in middle age now – the aforementioned She Still Leads Me On is about Anderson’s mother, who died in 1989. Thoughts of mortality, ageing and legacy are tackled, but in a loud, celebratory way. It’s the perfect way to kick off the album.
Personality Disorder keeps up the energy, full of Richard Oakes’ fiery guitar riffs and a chorus tailor-made to sing along to, while 15 Again already sounds like classic Suede. They’re still equally good at the dramatic ballad too, as album centrepiece Drive Myself Home proves – simply Anderson, a piano, and a huge string section, it brings to mind their finest record Dog Man Star.
There’s an autobiographical element in all of Autofiction’s song – The Boy On The Stage is Anderson looking at his own flamboyant stage persona (featuring a huge glam-rock beat that could have come direct from the band’s debut album), while What Am I Without You sounds like much a love letter to fans who have stuck by the band for almost 30 years.
It’s this mix of lyrical introspection married to such joyously raucous indie-disco stompers that make Autofiction such a success. At times, they sound like a band half their actual age – indeed, on Shadow Self, they’re a dead ringer for bands they themselves inspired such as Bloc Party, with Anderson’s half-spoken vocals sounding just like Kele Okereke.
Autofiction finishes on another euphoric moment, the grandiose, almost Gothic arrangement of Turn Off Your Brain And Yell, which comes complete with an old-school sound of a stylus lifting off vinyl. It’s a fitting end to an album which is the sound of that rare thing – a band who, three decades into their career, still sounds as fresh and exciting as they did when they first began.