It really shouldn’t work.
Suede’s return – as joyous an occasion as it was – seemed to be geared around an exercise in nostalgia. For fans, it was a rare chance to catch the group in their natural setting, adding some visceral, electrifying noise to those glorious, often grandiose studio recordings.
But for Suede, this was something quite different. A re-invigorating process, the passion and conviction with which they attacked those re-union shows suggested a lust that had yet to be tempered. Much mooted, the process behind a new album has – unbeknownst to fans – already begun. “I think we just felt that this is what you do if you’re in a band” explains Mat Osman, matter of factly. “It’s that thing of a band being like a shark, it has to keep moving or it dies. I love doing the shows, doing festivals and stuff but you can’t keep doing it. It’s diminishing returns. For a while we’ve been thinking that we want to do a record and we thought we could do a record, because quite often those two things don’t go together. We spent a long time writing and worrying about whether we were actually going to do it or not. For a long time we were 50/50 over whether we were able to do it, whether we could actually make a record we were proud of.”
Each step Suede take is carefully pored over. Aware that they have a legacy to protect, the band simply did not want to tarnish the good will their return had engendered with an album that fell below standards. “I think definitely the experience of making the last Suede ‘A New Morning’ where I think looking back on it, it would definitely have been better for our career generally to have not released that record – that made us feel that if we do write a load of stuff which is not good enough then we won’t release it. We were definitely prepared to put a lot of work in and then not release the record” Brett Anderson insists. “Every record you make is hard, there’s no such thing as an easy album to make. The whole point of it is that you work hard at it and it’s a struggle to some extent otherwise.. you don’t get anything for free, do you know what I mean? It’s a challenge and that’s the beauty of it. The challenge is overcoming these things. It was an especially hard record to make in that coming back after ten years of not making records you’ve got a very fine balancing act of sounding like yourself but not sounding like a self parody. Finding the right balance there was the tricky thing.”
Plus, as Mat Osman freely admits, the ‘comeback record’ is a notoriously difficult beast to tame. “I think being aware that most comeback records are awful. It’s true isn’t it?” he laughs. “I mean, generally… it’s the problem we had when we came back to do live gigs and it’s the same with the record. People have done it before and they’re not very good. We’ve kind of worked really hard at not being: right, we’re in a band we’ve got 12 songs and a God given right to inflict them on the world. After the live stuff I think won us back a lot of friends we were very aware of not fucking that up. It was only two, three months after that was finished that we thought: right, now this is beginning to work. You get three or four key songs together and suddenly you can see this record, hear this record.”
Working with Ed Buller, Suede were utterly ruthless during the recording process. Refusing to endorse mediocrity, sessions found the studio floor littered with discarded ideas. “Brutal, I think is the word. Brutal” Osman muses. “Everyone had tens of songs ditched, didn’t they? Everyone had stuff that they were really fond of which either the rest of the band – or Ed – just went, no it’s not good enough. One of Ed’s conditions for working with us was: I have to be able to be really rude. One of the things I like about him is that we’ve known him for 20 years and he’s quite prepared to be rude. Literally, you’ll come to him and go: I think this is fucking brilliant we’ve been working on it. He’ll say: “oh I don’t like it. It’s awful. Why would you want to write a song like that?” Which is pretty dispiriting but that’s the way you get around what happens with these comeback records which is that you have to start from scratch, you have to learn to be a band again, you have to get your standards up, you have to do the things that new bands do. Which is write a ton of stuff for the sheer fun of doing it and then throw that stuff away because it’s not good enough.”
The results are – frankly – much better than we had any right to expect. ‘Bloodsports’ is neither a re-tread not a re-invention, it simply sounds as you would imagine Suede in 2013 to sound; older, for sure, but that weight of experience is matched by a need to push ahead, a new to measure themselves against younger (but not necessarily hungrier) groups. Lyrically, Brett Anderson dwells on love, but – as he explains – this is something he felt he simply couldn’t avoid. “I’m increasingly of the mind that it’s the only real, valid content for pop music, really” the singer insists. “Pop music is about emotion, it’s about all these things but I find it very hard to listen to music that has theoretical subject matter. For me, it’s about passion and intensity and the songs need to reflect that, really”.
Continuing, Brett Anderson outlined the underlying narrative that threads through each the entire album. “They’re about the marathon of being in a relationship. Not just about the infatuation or the split. The idea for the album was that it was from the start of a relationship to the end” he says. “It starts and ends with you, sort of thing. You meet someone, there’s a song about the infatuation thing and there are songs in between about suspicion, co-dependency and all these states which you reach within a relationship and then inevitably obsession and splitting up. It was a journey through a relationship. It came quite naturally, the subject matter. You have to write about what you feel is driving you. I didn’t want to write some sort of theoretical album that didn’t mean anything to me. I think people can see through that quite quickly”.
‘Bloodsports’ is marked by Anderson’s lyrical content, containing the sort of whip crack wit which made him such an enticing proposition at the band’s peak. Alongside this, though, is a refusal to be tempered, a desire to break past the sometimes cold environment of the studio. “We wanted to sound like how we sound live” Osman insists. “We’ve learned a lot about playing live over the past couple of years. You listen to lots of live versions of the songs and they just sound so exciting live. I don’t think – even in our heyday – we captured the violence of what it’s like to be at a Suede gig. Sonically. We really wanted to capture that live, wiry sound.”
Infused with a taut dynamic, ‘Bloodsports’ finds Suede analyzing what is really means to be Suede. The band’s own viewpoints – five members with different interests, different conceptions – it matched by Ed Buller, someone who is intrinsically associated with the group’s output. “I think there are little differences but that’s kind of what being in a band is – rather than changing the members each time” says the frontman. “It’s the slightly different ideas of where you’re going.. we always end up in the same place but it kind of pulls it into interesting places”.
Together, Suede and their producer hammered out a new conception for Suede in a fresh era. Whereas Ed Buller favoured a pop approach, Brett Anderson argued for something quite different. “I didn’t want to make an album like that because I thought it would sound dated” he states. |We met in the middle, I wanted it to sound a little bit cooler and more modern, in a sense, while he wanted it to sound like a classic Suede record. We met somewhere in a quite interesting point between the two things. That’s point of collaborating with other people, it’s that they drag you somewhere that you can’t comfortably go sometimes. It’s this mid point, that’s where the magic is.”
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'Bloodsports' is out next Monday (March 18th).