With the desperately sad passing of David Bowie it is instructive to consider his lasting influence on British pop music – and it is not long until the name Suede pops up. Few bands formed in last few decades can have fallen under his influence quite so comprehensively, Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson honing their vision for the group to the accompaniment of repeated plays of Quicksand. Yet of the successful acts that took their lead from The Man Who Fell To Earth, few turned those influences into something overwhelmingly theirs.
Suede are a thrilling exception. In the early to mid-1990s the flame of Bowie burned bright in their music before dwindling to an ember as the band fell on arguments and lean times. Yet here they are again, in the spirit of Lazarus, making music like their lives depend on it once more. Proof of this is found everywhere you turn in Night Thoughts. It retains all that made them great in the first place – the swooning choruses, the punchy guitars, the massive productions – but at the same time offers proof of elegance and grace as their maturity grows. And it fits them – after all, Anderson is now in his late forties.
The fire has barely dimmed, mind, as the thrilling bank of guitars that make Outsiders such an immovable object will testify. This and other big ‘up’ songs on the album (see No Tomorrow, Like Kids) contain a chord change that should be known as ‘the Anderson principle’. In No Tomorrow this opens up the verse into the chorus with an all-embracing gesture, while Like Kids uses it to turn the end of the chorus in on itself before coming back to the verse. This fingerprint is stamped on most of the band’s best work, and Brett can now legitimately claim it for his own.
Added to this, his voice still sounds terrific – as the falsetto in No Tomorrow confirms. Even when not afforded the aircraft-hangar style reverb of I Can’t Give Her What She Wants and Tightrope, it’s clear Anderson still has the power, the ability to soar over Richard Oakes’ guitars, and the emotional clout that suggests all he ever wrote is going to be packed into the next three minutes of the song you’re listening to.
Occasionally the rhythm deviates from what you might expect. Episodes of toe-tapping funk threaten to break loose in What I’m Trying To Tell You, which struts confidently into the open, despite Anderson’s protests that “I don’t have the sophistication or the right connections”…”this is enough and you’re walking away”. The doubling-up of snarly guitar (cf. The Beautiful Ones) and Anderson’s “na na na na” would suggest he has the strength in depth to deal with it. Tightrope is an outright curiosity though, delivered in a Pink Floyd-style triple time and losing its way a little, perhaps in the knowledge of dramas to come.
I Can’t Give Her What She Wants is a different story, the emotional heart of Night Thoughts – which is some achievement, given the depths already plumbed by I Don’t Know How To Reach You. Finally Anderson surrenders all to the tragic story the album has threatened to become, his desperate admissions given from the edge of the parapet, the voice sharp in tone but flawless in pitch. There is seemingly little to pull him back – but thankfully When You Were Young is on hand to offer consolation.
Still, this is Suede right near their very best. They remain incurable, helpless romantics, barely able to control their wildest musical thoughts, and Brett Anderson sounds like he depends on them more than ever. Long may they stay that way.