Why is it that after big British bands break up, the singer always seems to do
fairly well for himself while the guitarist/co-songwriter suffers before rapidly
dwindling crowds? For instance, while the works of Morrissey (The Smiths), Ian
Brown (The Stone Roses), and the Brett Anderson-dominated, post-Bernard Butler
Suede may be fairly spotty, they've far outshone the solo careers and new collaborations
of their respective guitar foils Johnny Marr, John Squire, and Butler. At the
same time, their fans have been left to wonder what kind of music might come
forth should the impossible happen and any of these dissolved partnerships come
back into being.
With the recent reunion of the onetime Suede principals as The Tears, fans of that group's early-'90s work need wonder no more. The bigger question is whether the pair should have bothered after a decade apart.
Heaven knows it gives me no great satisfaction to reveal that Here Come the Tears is not quite the second coming. Is it solid? Certainly, and by far the best thing either of these two guys has been associated with since the third, Butler-free Suede album, Coming Up. But there's a feeling of tentative, restrained safeness that ultimately makes it a very-good-but-not-quite-great album.
The first two tracks to be released as singles typify this dilemma: both "Refugees" and "Lovers" are sprightly, catchy, upbeat creations of the sort that latter-day Suede kicked out with relative ease, more sugar than spice. Of the two, "Lovers" is the more compelling track, opening with a tease of feedback from Butler's guitar before taking us through a tour of the man's many guitar textures, from muscular chording to spidery riffs through to an inventive solo on the bridge. Potential single "Autograph" adds some strong acoustic chording to the mix, but it too feels much like late-period Suede, Anderson tempting us to read some of his and Butler's history into the lyrics as he relates the potential passage of a relationship "too complex to ever last."
The temptation to read Anderson's lyrics as a narrative of his feelings toward his erstwhile bandmate is strengthened by the celebratory chorus of "Co-Star": "Yes when we're together the world smiles/ And when we're together it feels right/ We'll live for the future and its scenes/ When we're together my co-star and me." Of the two co-stars, Anderson seems the more refreshed and invigorated in The Tears; most of the clichés and affectations that marred his recent lyrics are mercifully absent.
Despite the tune's familiar feel, "Imperfections" works wonderfully,
as Anderson catalogues and celebrates a lover's seeming shortcomings in apparent
to Shakespeare's Sonnet 130. "The Ghost of You" scales magnificent musical heights,
with a simple, quiet opening building to the heights of past Suede mini-epics,
Butler strongly asserting his role, working with keyboardist Will Foster to create
mountains of sound for Anderson's voice to climb over. Similarly epic is "Apollo
13," another grower that slowly unfolds over the course of nearly six minutes
like some outtake from second Suede album Dog Man Star. The dramatic,
fashion-forward "Brave New Century" brings forth a sea of bile from the singer,
who menacingly throws forth lines like "Religion breeds like a disease while
people spit on refugees" and "We sit and choke on magazines and worship shit
celebrities" to the band's acidic accompaniment.
It will be interesting to see where The Tears head next Anderson has a solo album forthcoming that was recorded over the same timeframe as this release, but he has made it clear in recent interviews that The Tears will be releasing a second album. This is a compelling debut/reunion, with the two men seeming to push each other far more than any of their recent collaborators have. If tears be coming forth, be assured that they're more joyous than sad.