When you're young - and in the context of rock musicians I'm giving a mid-20's/late 20's bracket here - you're ineptly open to make mistakes. Whether that be drinking excessively, smoking [drugs] continually, getting into fights, or avoiding all that but still coming out with an album that is (analysis not really needed) just down-right awful, there's always a slight bitter-sweet moment where you reflect on such days fifteen-twenty years down the line, and say to yourself 'what the fuck was that all about?'. Brett Anderson, Suede front-man and one of many charmers of British rock, makes no excuse for both his and the five-piece's late-90's/early-00's off-road bafflement. While most will go to reassure the man that 1994's Dog Man Star was one of the finely-crafted British albums of that decade - even if the recording process was anything but - respect should be given to Anderson, a man who's willing to reflect and show a sense of honesty rather than simply make out Suede's recent reforming is simply some second/third-chance attempt to get back into the swing of things. Though Suede reformed in 2010, playing many gigs both small and large in scale, it's been another three years for us to see another reformed equivalence of a 'return to form' be hopefully unveiled. Bloodsports, in its cover, does remind me of that same lavish style previous Suede albums have been represented by, and in a minor sense, I feel there's something rather promising and fond about to enter my ears. But is this, as I'm amply trying to make a prediction of, a forty-minute (it's actually fourteen seconds short of the mark, but whatever) flicker back to the good old days, or just a nostalgic escapist attempt to garner some of that magic now lost to past context?
Well if we're going on simply the basis on jetting majestically back to the good times when Anderson was at his most androgynous and glamorous - music too at its most atmospheric - then opener Barriers certainly ticks those check-list points. From the off, age feels little more than a number, Anderson's lavish tone of voice jettisoning straight through the track's rigged guitar hooks that daunt and dart as much as they beam straight across. It's when the chorus drops appear that the energy of the music comes to the forefront - Anderson's reaching echo of 'we jumped over the barriers...jumped over the barriers' fueled by the graveled dexterity of guitar tone and bullish drumbeats throughout. Snowblind thereafter continues this familiar, somewhat comforting, return to grinding guitar textures and Anderson's vocals that are as much bold and bruited in their front, as they are bare and rather feminine in their honesty. The sounds do feel a bit more foggier and clouded perhaps by the track's looping fuss of reverb and distortion, but the individual tones from the guitars provide a kindred sort of melody and harmony to the piece. Anderson himself, while coming across more a part of the fog and confusion of the piece, appears rather fitted for that particular placement and while there is indeed less a clarity, it doesn't necessarily deject or deter its listeners from what is still an appealing lead of instrumentation and vocal toning.
But the album only truly reels us back to the heyday of Dog Man Star-esque genius and the like, when the track It Starts And Ends With You begins. It's here that Brett Anderson's profound skill for romanticist lyricism and melodramatic scene-staging finally bursts at the seems and pours itself into the listener's ear canals. Admittedly, there's no turning a blind eye to the fact that this is the third track of this ten-track album (and by no means the last) where we find ourselves confined to 4/4 verse-bridge-chorus song structures. Though even with this disarraying lack of diversity - that could, in another time provided us with some intriguing leaps of faith in Suede's charismatic style of writing and how it may have impacted on Anderson's own style of vocals - the band do the pattern justice, albeit melodramatic to the point you almost feel as if this is less an album, and more some amateur-dramatic staging of some romantic-tragedy-comedy you'd remembered why you'd been put off seeing it all that time. But needless to say, Suede find a way to make the potentially cringe-worthy work, and rather than cringing, we're instead caught gallantly amidst Anderson's flurrying narrative of romance on the rocks against the band's rowdy punk-like mesh of guitar leads and pounding percussion. 'And then I fall to the floor like my strings are cut,' Anderson details, 'Pinch myself but I don't wake up/Spit in the wind cause too much is not enough.' It's the way the glamorous meets all the melodrama and melancholy of Anderson's subject matters that makes a rather cheese-inducing scene come off rather immediate and without hesitation.
That post-haste decisiveness and lack of hesitation is what has served Suede so well in their career. And here, unrequited, it comes back to both reward their efforts, as much as it does - quite obviously - haunt them at times. I do feel there is some safety in numbers when it comes to how this album develops as we get into the middle bulk of the record. The track prior to the half-way mark, Sabotage, does offer us more a darker and gruesome side to Anderson's story-telling - swelling synth notes leading into more melodically-clambering guitar strums and drums that while a lot more lower and secretive, come off not so eager to simply let loose. But it's the higher scorn of guitar riffs and, once more, Anderson's reaching exclamations that paint the mood of this piece to be one of, as the title suggests, an act of self-destruction or betrayal. The extremity of clashing guitars and the way they mesh into Anderson's sweeping vocals certainly gives allusions to this feeling, and it is without question one of the strongest pieces, emotionally, the band have created thus far. It feels quite bizarre then that For The Strangers begins immediately afterwards, in this fairly tangy mid-range rhythmic tone it passes on as if rather whimsically and naively. Conceptually, and more-so on an emotional scale, it's rather withdrawing and potentially could make its listener's do a double-take on just where it is this album is leading us. The guitar textures and inclusion of strings does give us an interesting mix of the somber and the insecure, but this is perhaps one of the lesser-engaging efforts on the album, simply because it feels rather startling and unexpected given its position on the record.
'You touch the place where we meet/Where you and I become she and he' Anderson is quick to pull us back into that familiarly juxtaposing paradox of romance and conflict on follower Hit Me. And despite Anderson's rather sexual, rather formal placing of context, it's a fond reminder as to what Brett himself has built for himself over his career with Suede and what gives the band's rough, blurred-passion of guitars and drums that humanely innocent and humanely volatile edge. 'Come on and hit me with your majesty,' Anderson pleads to his listener and, it seems, to the partner he is both in love with, and regretfully has feelings for, 'Come on and hit me with all your mystery' - flickers still of that fondness for the opposite sex, and the desperation to pull away from it rather emphatically at the same time. On the wider scope, the concept of love and its struggles on a human level have never been too far from Anderson's line of thinking. And while I feel he has executed better lyrically on previous albums, I'm pleased still that even in post-noughties music - and more fittingly, in post-noughties society and culture - subject matter still holds a decent level of importance and relevance to flesh out. Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away, thankfully, is where Suede decide to strip their approach back a little, even if the rowdy guitar deliverance and reverb layering still somewhat resist said change. Anderson's lyrical delivery is more sincere and bare, much like the initial echo of electric guitars in the early moments of the track. There's more a nasally quality to Anderson's voice, and even when the song eventually catapults back into this rowdier unveiling of guitars and drums, the Suede front-man still comes off rather individualized and alone against the vacant air looming around him. There's indeed a darker lingering as a result, and even if the guitar sounds come off rather uplifting and energized, there's no getting away from this overwhelming bleak sense from Anderson's perspective in the mix.
The piano-led looming quality to What Are You Not Telling Me? continues borrowing from this same darkly-placed solitary confinement of sorts. But here, Anderson decides on stretching out the humanity and vulnerability of himself across the apocalyptic landscape of the track. And even though the occasional treading of higher-pitch keys and later sweep of violins do add a slight brighter tint of colour to the song, there's still this dominant bleakness to the song. This, it gives Anderson's vocals and subject matter a resounding more desperate, paranoid edge to its deliverance. Especially when the music ceases, and all we're treated to is Anderson's double/triple-tracked variations on the title words, the song does lead us on a very lonely and despondent cause for concern in this certain line of thought. By the time we get to the final track, Faultlines, it's clear that in regards to the story and tale of this album, there's a no-going-back message emanating from both the music and the lyrics Anderson entails in a way that, even here, still leaves the listener wondering whether the singer is (playing the part of one half of this 'happy' couple) pleased or displeased with the way things have turned out. The music here too carries that indecisiveness too. Lingering piano keys and Anderson's climbing cry to 'celebrate/this is your time' though clearly wanting to be heard, the opposing muster of guitars and screeching strings in the backdrop, remain infectiously present to offer an argument against such illusions - backed by Anderson's yin-yang realization that even with this optimism we (the doomed couple referred to throughout the record) still 'live in the wreckage'. So to watch/hear the closing moments of both the track and the album on rather a more whimpered sailing off into the abyss, leaves a rather more heavy-hearted impact on its listener.
Taking a look back at Suede's discography, and you'll see that one of the key, underlining themes running through is the concept of relationships and their potential instability and obvious vulnerability to not just the outside World, but to each other; the two lover's who had once hoped for peace and stability, now longing for war and instability. The majority of Suede's album covers have depicted human empathy and a certain feeling of humanity in some form of projected exasperation. It's rather fitting then, that the cover to Bloodsports presents another couple, caught this time in the blind conflict of romance fallen apart and human emotion running riot. To have started with a blissful form of intimacy on their debut, and end - for the time being - with it falling apart rather violently, paints a rather fitting scene suited for contemporary society's lulled view on love. But above all, it shows that Suede's music - in both its lavish, almost flamboyant striking of the truth, and vocalist Brett Anderson's glamorous honesty that love (as both a concept and a structure) isn't entirely one-dimensional - has managed to live long past its musical roots. Admittedly, while Anderson never liked being shoe-horned into the Britpop scene, the lack of diversity and change in song progression in this album, does make this come off less 21st century than it actually is. But its success, and more importantly its relevance, lies in Suede's clear loathing of the idea of love simply being some pure, holy matrimony without fault. As we come to learn to immense effect though, Bloodsports proves that even romance can have its problems. What may have started out as a kiss - the cliche of love-at-first-sight rearing its ugly head - can equally finish off with a darker and dismaying truth that even with all this intimacy and promise of trust, we are in the end individuals striving to live a happy life...whatever the cost.