In the early 90’s, four bands dominated what many music journalists would collectively dub Britpop—Pulp, Oasis, Blur, and Suede. Each band effectively carved their own niche and weaved certain themes into the fabric of their discography. With Pulp, it was dysfunctional relationships. Oasis was all about aspirations of greatness, Blur explored the perils of working-class existence, and Suede alternated between lust disguised as love and vice versa. Front man Brett Anderson once claimed that his best material grew out of sexual frustration, and it shows with exhilarating ferocity on Suede’s self-titled debut as well as Dog Man Star and the glam-infused Coming Up (a personal favorite of mine).
Like their Britpop contemporaries, Suede tried to change things up and lost their way before calling it a day and splitting up. With the exception of A New Morning (a rather disappointing swan song of sorts), Suede’s catalogue has held up pretty well over the years. However, when a band like Suede returns to the fold after a lengthy absence, one can’t help but feel skeptical. Will the new material play it safe and sound like before or embrace something totally new? Either way, there’s always an uneasiness hanging over a comeback record, no matter who it’s coming from. The band’s sixth outing, Bloodsports, picks the safest route and revisits the guitar-heavy sound that made them famous, but in their case, it’s the best possible route they could have taken. Simply put, Suede sounds better than they have in years.
Whereas Head Music embraced electronic pop and A New Morning settled for a quasi-acoustic approach, Bloodsports brings back the genuine heart-wrenching lust that colored the band’s first three albums. The guitars soar, Neil Codling’s keyboards swell, and Brett Anderson’s vocals punch through the ether with renewed intensity. Bloodsports recaptures Suede’s spirit of urgency and pain.
As evidenced by Barriers, a pleading love song guided by drums that sound like a galloping horse, Bloodsports means business. Anderson doesn’t break new ground when it comes to lyrical content, but he knows it, and that’s where a great deal of this album’s strength comes from. Snowbird and It Starts and Ends With You channel the reckless rock of their debut, while What Are You Not Telling Me? revisits the ghostly pensiveness that made Dog Man Star so special.
Bloodsports is a relatively quick listen and makes good use of its time. Whether or not Suede will rocket back to the top is uncertain, but if Bloodsports is any indication, they’re here to stay, and that’s worth celebrating.
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