It's virtually impossible not to hold a so-called "comeback record" up against a band's past, and it's useless not to judge Suede's sixth studio effort, Bloodsports, out March 19 on INgrooves / Suede Ltd, against the UK rock band's 1990s history. But it's the context of Suede's uneven career that makes this album so remarkable. It's rare that a band like this, 20 years after their blitzing, neo-glam, Britpop-kickstarting debut LP, can stake a claim to immediate relevance as older, seasoned statesmen of British rock, and rarer still to do it after an 11-year absence. Much like David Bowie, who's also enjoying a renaissance these days, Suede's epitaph was written long ago. Or so it seemed.
But the majestic Bloodsports, an instantly classic Suede record that brims with the raw emotion that defined the band's early years — the reckless sexual abandon of their first record, the lush, winterized orchestration of Dog Man Star, and even the glossy microwaved pop of Coming Up — accomplishes what was thought to be the impossible. It transports the listener to the years right after 1996's Coming Up, after frontman Brett Anderson re-wrote the Suede rulebook (that was the first comeback, right?) by taking a center-stage shine to songwriting duties a few short years after the departure of his acclaimed writing partner, guitarist Bernard Butler.
More important, perhaps, then, Bloodsports also nearly eradicates from the senses the two mixed-review records that came after Coming Up: 1999's more ambient leaning Head Music (which still had a few brilliant moments, notably "Everything Will Flow") and the entirely forgettable and misguided A New Morning (2002), which many said found the band in the role of self-parody. By 2003, they had called it a day.
Bloodsports will both please longtime fans who yearned for the ultra-obsessive mid-'90s era (no one just kind of likes Suede, right?) and establishes a course of modernity for the band. A few years ago, I caught them at Coachella, and the hits from yesterday sounded fresh and vital, but despite promises of new material, one had to wonder if their rare US appearance was merely a nostalgia binge in exchange for a big paycheck.
As it turns out, it was not. New songs like "For the Strangers" and "It Starts and Ends with You" find the band recharged and re-focused; the bedroom ballad "Sabotage" brings Richard Oakes's electric-arcing guitars back to his Coming Up days; and post-Britpop daggers like "Snowblind" and "Hit Me" extend the band's once-stalled Greatest Hits machine. Anderson himself sounds like the previous 15 years never happened.
In my conversation with the usually reserved frontman this week, we discussed the positive reaction to Bloodsports, finding a balance between their successes and failures of the past, their reunion with mid-'90s producer Ed Buller, and their relationship with America.
Anderson, as it's been noted, has got his demon back. Just don't call his band "the London Suede."
Hey Brett, how are you doing? Hi Michael, are you in Boston? How is it in Boston today?
Pretty good, but I think you guys have a score to settle with my city? Oh about the stolen gear? Yeah someone in Boston has got some nice guitars.