I used to adore Suede. I even went so far as to make "SuedeSteve" my online moniker for quite a time (I still like the sound of it, with the steady rhythm of the S's and E's) and flying two-thirds of the way across the country to see them on the very brief U.S. leg of their Coming Up tour. The English band's glam-inspired music, especially the prickly guitars of Bernard Butler and successor Richard Oakes combined with Brett Anderson's evocative, thin-yet-strong voice, created dramatic, escapist rock of the highest order, which I found suitable both for lying about daydreaming and for pogoing up and down. They portrayed a world both familiar and alien to me, romantic and realistic at the same time, appealing equally to the mind, the heart and the body.
My adoration faded a few years back when the band unfortunately known in some countries as "The London Suede" for legal reasons released a genuine clunker with their fourth album, 1999's Head Music. Made with renowned dance producer and remixer Steve Osbourne (U2, Boy George, Happy Mondays), their experiments with electronics sounded cold, with some of the material approaching self-parody. It wasn't so much that the album included some filler, but that songs like "Elephant Man" and the title track were downright cringe-inducing. But hope was not lost, as some of the B-sides from the album's four excellent singles suggested that Suede were essentially victims of their own restless ambition rather than a bunch of has-beens.
Three years and a lineup change later (former Strangelove member Alex Lee joins on guitar and keyboards, replacing the now-retired Neil Codling, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome), Suede return with A New Morning, an album nearly as gentle as its title. Though it's not quite the folk-pop album that some post-Head Music interviews with Anderson had foreshadowed, the ballads do outweigh the rockers, which puts the lyrics in the spotlight, for better and for worse.
To deal with the bad bits up front, the title of lightweight lead single "Positivity" is far too reminiscent of Bush-isms like "strategery," while the song also includes a dated reference to '80s soap opera Dynasty. This is not a good thing, and neither is this first track. Another ballad, "Astrogirl," has quickly found its way into the where's-the-remote-I-must-skip-this category; the song reminds us that there are certain words that just plain don't work in song lyrics, as with much of this verse: "A strange experience has started/ Between her molecules and me/ It's like disease between us forming/ From obsolete technology."
Indeed, when Suede are bad, they're very bad but when they're good, they craft some exciting rock tracks. "Obsessions" opens with a harmonica and churning guitars pushing Anderson's pop-tastic "ooohs," then catalogs both the good and bad things a partner notices about his lover, much more of a love song than the title suggests. With lyrics about "The dumb sound that comes from underground that's got you clapping/ Got you shaking your rears," the fast, fun pop of "Streetlife" encapsulates the inexplicably giddy feeling I get listening to good Suede. "Beautiful Loser" rides a vaguely metallic riff and stomping beat to bring back the attitude, if not quite the sound, of the band's debut album.
Balancing the rockier bits are a number of quieter, contemplative pieces. "Lost in TV" sparkles, with Oakes and Lee providing delicate backing vocals to Anderson's lament over the eternal quest for 15 minutes of fame. "Untitled...Morning" segues two songs into one track, with the former humorously melding some decidedly unromantic imagery ("Like flies on a windscreen/ And like insects in glue/ We could stick together/ If you wanted to") to express love, and the latter a gentle, finger-picked paean to the morn. The piano-driven "When the Rain Falls" closes the album nicely, Anderson calling to a lover to join him in splashing about the puddles while everyone else scampers home, two alone in a world that can't be bothered to see the beauty in it all.
A decade in, Suede still remain a love-or-hate proposition to most who have heard them. And even if they put out the occasional duff track, you can still count me a fan.