London Suede | Bloodsports (Suede LTD/Fontana)

suede blood_sqBrett Anderson isn’t shy about his trademark romantic, druggy, sexual, often utterly ridiculous yet charming turns of phrases, both old and new.

 

All hail the return of the erstwhile champions of lusty, androgynous hedonism! The news of Suede’s reformation was initially slightly eyebrow-raising—it’s far too easy to imagine them restarting operations after a lengthy hiatus and quickly morphing into some sort of 1990s version of what became of ABC: a formerly vital band sadly dragging their haggard bones around the nostalgia circuit, most original members replaced by faceless hired guns. Mercifully, this isn’t the case with Bloodsports, the group’s first album in 11 years. While it doesn’t manage to reunite frontman Brett Anderson with estranged original guitarist/songwriter Bernard Butler (side project Tears on 2004’s one-off collaboration Here Come the Tears), it wisely brings back the main core of the “Mark II” lineup.

Bloodsports strongly hearkens back to the pinnacle of the post-Butler Suede (sadly dubbed London Suede here in the U.S.), 1996’s stylishly pop Coming Up, but with a slightly darker bent. There’s a sinister edge softer than the heroin-doused bleakness of much of the band’s 1992–95 original lineup heyday. But that’s not necessarily a deal breaker, or a totally unhealthy thing. Nor does it ever once feel like a carbon paper retread; there’s a sense of purpose to these 40 minutes, the work of a band with a plan to harness its dormant, yet intrinsic strengths.

Taut and lean, this record finds the entire band, especially Anderson, in fighting form; his voice hasn’t sounded this fluid and captivatingly lugubrious in a decade. Kicking his frightening turn-of-the-century crack habit was a helpful career move in that regard. He also isn’t shy about stocking Bloodsports with his trademark romantic, druggy, sexual, often utterly ridiculous yet charming turns of phrases, both old and new. (Get out your bingo card and look for any/all of the following: aerosol, lipstick, martyr, gutter, nuclear, motorway, greasepaint, etc.)

None of this newfound focus would matter if the tunes weren’t any cop. Reassuringly, they are, in spades. Big melodies abound, decorated with a healthy splattering of glam stomp. “Hit Me” and “Barriers” feel like effortless, instant singles (the likes of which Suede haven’t written for 15 years). There’s a widescreen confidence to these songs, and most of the entire album, like the on-horseback approach of hair gel and mascara-slathered conquering warriors.

The abundant co-writing credits and strong, consistent performances from guitarist Richard Oakes and keyboardist Neil Codling are another reason Bloodsports is so engaging. Sinuous synths lines weave between martial drums and wiry guitars on “Sabotage,” while wavy, underwater guitar lines and ghostly keyboards captivate in “What Are You Not Telling Me.” Elsewhere, “Always” tiptoes along like the footsteps of a stylish vampire down the echo-laden halls of a cold, damp castle. It and album finale “Faultlines” possess a slow-burning noir grandeur that hasn’t shown up much, if at all, in their music since 1994’s swirling art-glam masterpiece Dog Man Star.

There’s not much new ground being trod on Bloodsports, but it succeeds wildly as a hungry comeback album from a band that had seemingly been satisfied to fade away into mediocrity. It’s good to have Suede back in the fold, reinforcing rather than tarnishing their legacy. B+ | Mike Rengel

 

RIYL: early ’70s Bowie; “Girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they’re girls who do girls like they’re boys”; Bryan Ferry post-Roxy; pre-jazz standards; methadone

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