Arriving 11 years after Suede's last studio album and following their lauded 2010 reunion, Bloodsports is scheduled to be released on March 18th through the band's new label, Warner Music. Taking its title from the cyclical nature of relationships (twinned with very-Suede sleeve art), Brett has revealed that "It's about lust, it's about the chase, it's about the endless carnal game of love. It was possibly the hardest album we've ever made but certainly the most satisfying. It's ten furious songs, which for me have reclaimed from ourselves what Suede was always about; drama, melody and noise." The LP also sees the group teaming up with producer Ed Buller once again, who previously collaborated with them on what almost everyone regards as the unparalleled Suede eras. With Ed reportedly pushing the band to challenge themselves, to be self-critical and as ambitious as possible with their songwriting after re-entering the studio, in order to rediscover the 'Suede voice'. Notably, in seeking artistic renewal, around 40 tracks were scrapped, with Brett even admitting to seriously considering deserting the sessions / project midway through and finally calling it a day for Suede. Understandably though, the individual group members all felt that they still had unfinished business and wanted to make up for the way in which the band originally bowed-out, where they painfully limped-over the finish line. With an incalculable amount of fans and music critics agreeing that Suede deserved a much more celebrated ending than this and to be remembered as so much more than a footnote in rock 'n' roll history.
Thankfully however, the reformed group persevered through blood, sweat and tears, eventually finding the chemistry between them, their hunger, vision and muse (Barriers was the turning point), successfully completing work on the record after spending a year recording in Brussels (ICP Studios) and London (Sarm Studios). Summing up the sound of Bloodsports, Brett told one journalist, "It was difficult in that there were two extremes - on one side you've got your sound which you reference because there is no point in reinventing yourself as a completely different band, because that would be crazy. On the other hand, you don't want to sound like a pastiche or a parody. That was the really tricky thing about the album to get right because of that, which was specifically to get that balance between those two parts of the spectrum. Sometimes it's great, like when The Beatles and Bowie reinvented themselves, but some bands being themselves over and over again really works and there is nothing wrong with that and I wish we had someone to say that there was nothing wrong with being yourselves. It's ok to be yourself and not disappear up your own arse like at the end of our nineties career." So then, with much riding on this, their highly-anticipated sixth long player, Bloodsports is where the next chapter of Suede's story begins. Is it worth the wait?
Opening with the polychromatic, sunshine sparkle of Barriers and the romantic notion of two lovers jumping over barriers side-by-side (a feasible nod to Suede's return as well?), sonically, the warm, galloping drums sweep you off your feet and are unlike anything you've ever heard on a Suede composition before. Also supported by glittering riffs, burnished bass and luscious crystalline synthesisers which vie for your attention all at once, Brett's effulgent and starbursting vocal range, tone and vibrato, only serve to make the whole audio experience even more uplifting! In reference to a quote by Francis Bacon and convinced that "it's the songwriter's job to deepen the mystery," it's also heartening to hear Brett bringing new and interesting ideas, analogies and symbolism to his language, wordplay and literate lyrics for Suede, which he first began exploring a lot more during his years as a solo artist. With its concept of being "frozen by the moment," Snowblind is a vivacious and chrome-plated all-out rocker, featuring a riot of guitars with pyrotechnic power chords to spare and lots of penetrating "Ooh's" from Brett. A track that will no doubt be a set highlight when performed live, which is something the quintet were determined to 'capture' on Bloodsports - their restless energy onstage. You'll know by now, that Suede's comeback single proper, It Starts And Ends With You, is an exhilarating, hook-filled pop banger which has so many overflowing, ear-candy and canyon-sized choruses, that even the band argue amongst themselves as to which chorus is the main one! Not that it matters, as they're all superb!
Having listened to the record on repeat several times over, which gets better and better with each play, I would say that Sabotage is one of my favourite songs - a definite choice-cut which managed to grab me instantly, as it's a gleaming pearl that ventures into unfamiliar pastures. Beginning with a precision-tooled, electronica feel and never-before-touched-upon industrial flirtations, it exhibits some of Richard's most impressive fretboard work to date (his solo is absolutely gorgeous!), not to mention some of Neil's most memorable neon and smooth-surfaced synth lines as well, steadily transforming into a slick stadium rock song that electro overlords Depeche Mode would be proud to have written. One of Brett's key lines on this has to be, "Her touch is like a raven's shadow." For The Strangers is timeless and in the mould of other stunningly beautiful and breathtaking Suede ballads such as The Wild Ones. Incorporating an anthemic, coiling chorus with a moving sentiment, "For all the strangers out there..." this marks it out as the LP's centrepiece and thematically, it's very much what Suede are unfalteringly about. Also proving the power of understated restraint, eloquent expression, being economical with words and that sometimes, it's not what you play, but how you play it - here, every moment counts. Hit Me meanwhile, takes you over with yet another infectious floodlight chorus, "Come on and hit me, with your majesty... Come on and hit me, with all your mystery." Underpinned with Coming Up-style atomic guitars, it's also garnished with some fantastic hallmark "La, la, la, la, la's."
"All the colours in the rainbow don't compare with one look in your impossible eyes..." croons Brett on Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away, which has an undeniable, widescreen Dog Man Star / Bowie feel to it. Brett - who is a sensational singer - really utilises his distinctive and versatile voice to great effect here, which has a luxurious, enchanting and hypnotising quality, delivering and emphasising every word with all of the unbridled passion that we've come to know and expect from him. In turn, complimenting the soaring symphony by exploring every corner of the song and fitting together with it like clockwork. Another diamond-encrusted winner! What Are You Not Telling Me?, Always and Faultlines, were likely very carefully sequenced together for a specific reason, as musically, they are less bright-eyed / hook-driven and more melancholic / introspective than the rest of the album, thus establishing a mood and sitting well next to each other in this order. As the final three songs, they help bring the long player to a suitable close, with the echo-soaked reverb on Brett's vocals and the longing way in which he begs, "What are you not telling me?" - melded to ghostly harmonies and subtle orchestration - adding an atmospheric, choral and haunting quality to the track. It will give you goosebumps. The oriental intro, Bond-esque middle-section and swelling climax of Always, along with the Ennio Morricone-tinged filmic strings, immaculately played decorative piano and the slow-build of the coalescing guitar, bass and drums of Faultlines, also warrant a worthy mention.
Early information about Bloodsports indicated that it was going to sound like a cross between Dog Man Star and Coming Up, and although there are identifiable strands of DNA from each of those seminal records present amongst the 10 songs, with a flab-free, 39 minute tracklisting, Bloodsports sounds like a sophisticated 21st Century version of Suede (thanks also to Andy Wallace's mix) filtered through a modern consciousness. Which should please the hardcore who wanted everything that they loved about the band, but with something new added to the equation. While at the same time, ensuring that there's enough here to attract adoration from new listeners as well, should the group wish to reach a wider audience and continue making further LPs in the future - which is something that Brett has expressed a desire to do, "Who says our best isn't yet to come?" On a side note, it's been said that behind most great albums there has always been a great producer, and Ed Buller clearly brings out the very best in the band. As this is a really rather wonderful return to form, with a triumphant, confident, bold, sleek and consistent collection of songs (there's no shortage of classic tunes here) that are going to become much-cherished staples of live shows, and of course, part of the soundtrack to many people's lives. You can hear the love that has gone into this long player - which fulfils its brief and is both inspired and inspiring - and the sheer joy of Brett, Mat, Simon, Richard and Neil creating music in a room together and being on the same page, is almost palpable. Interestingly, to help create a strong group identity / dynamic, Brett deliberately focused all of his energies on penning lyrics and thinking up vocal melodies during the recording process, putting all of the sonic responsibilities in the more-than-capable hands of his bandmates.
Riding a wave of genuine goodwill, reverence and respect after returning to the spotlight, this is an extremely special and stylish group who have come out swinging and are once again ready to scrawl their name across hearts and to rewrite their history. Welcome back Suede!
A very special thanks to Gary @ Warner Music, for all of his time and help.
*Bonus Tracks are available on the Box Set, iTunes and Japanese