Suede: The Blue Hour review
I was born in the late 1960’s, and came of age in the 70’s and 80’s, but if my sensibilities are stuck in any era then that would be the 1990’s. I still recoil at the price of things today – a pint, a pair of jeans, concert tickets – somehow expecting to be charged the same as I would have been in 1995, and when it comes to music, I seem to limit my range of listening – with very few exceptions – to anything that predates the curious demise of Diana Spencer. Suede are a band synonymous with the 90’s, but I will admit that when the NME were first pushing them down our throats I was openly hostile to anything and everything they had done. That all changed when they appeared in Top of the Pops in 1994 to flog their new single ‘We Are The Pigs’. On a stage flanked by flaming braziers, they belted out a dark litany of all the woes befalling Britain in the early 90’s that sounded like something that could have fallen into the run-out groove from Never Mind The Bollocks. Suddenly I was having to make a drastic reassessment of this bunch of arty fops who all wanted be peak-era Bowie, an assessment that had to be extended when I subsequently heard ‘The Asphalt World’, the 9-minute epic from their second album Dog Man Star. It was obvious to me that there was a serious band with something to say, trying to smash through the carapace the music press had forged, and it’s taken then about 20 years to finally complete the mutation. Their new album The Blue Hour is a consolidation of everything they’ve learnt in the past 25 years, but energised and elevated by a desire to still keep testing their own potential. They’re all my age now, and should sound tired and spent, just going through the motions, but on this album they sound re-vitalised and ready to take their obsession with dark romanticism as far as it’s possible to go. Their stall was set out early with a cover that looks like a George Shaw painting, and a promotional trailer that features a dead bird lying in the snow, and what’s to be expected is reinforced by the album opener – ‘As One’ – that melds Gregorian chants with orchestral underpinnings to establish a tone (“here I am, talking to my shadow, head in my hands”) that permeates all the songs: darkness, desperation, desire, and a determination to venerate that which burns at the core of your being, even if it may ultimately destroy you. What follows is what would have once been called ‘chart friendly’ rock songs – for example, ‘Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You’ has undeniable echoes of ‘We Are The Pigs’ – intertwined with tracks where they’ve tried for a different kind of texture, making the whole album sounded like the mature and confident piece of work it is. They’ve never sounded as good as they do now, and unlike many of their 90’s contemporaries they have endured by staying true to their obsessions and learnt the power that comes from refusing to compromise.