Night Thoughts sees Suede feeling inspired again says Brett Anderson
As Britpop pioneers, it was no surprise that Suede's reformation was well received. But, Andy Welch finds out, Brett Anderson and Mat Osman didn't expect things to go so well
WHEN Suede reformed in 2010, it was for a one-off show as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust gig at London's Royal Albert Hall. Understandably, fans around the world were ecstatic at the news the band would put to bed their disappointing end in 2003, when they just seemed to fizzle out.
"I've read so many things about Suede in the past, where it's said that because [2002's] A New Morning was a commercial flop, the band decided to break up," says singer Brett Anderson. "But that's not true. It was a flop because it wasn't very good, and it wasn't very good because the band were out of ideas. These things are never unrelated."
Eight years later, Anderson and his bandmates were feeling inspired enough to perform again. Although, as he says, "anyone can jump up and play through three chords they wrote years ago", but it's another thing entirely to reform a band and make a valid, good album.
That first album after the reunion was 2013's Bloodsports, which sounded exactly as you might expect a Suede album in 2013 to sound.
Anderson's love of seedy melodrama was still there, as were the unmistakeable melodies and guitar lines, but it was all slightly softened by age and the things that come with it – homes, families, responsibility and the like.
He says it was a very satisfying album to make, although very difficult, but did reconnect the band with their fans, and put them on the creative path that's led to their latest release, Night Thoughts.
Originally performed in its entirety at two London shows last November, it has an accompanying film made by photographer and film-maker Roger Sargent.
"God, we were terrified," says Sussex-born Anderson (48). "We ummed and ahhed about whether we should do that for so long, but it was actually the label and our management that really pushed us. We were worried that hearing a whole new album in one go doesn't translate, but they loved the idea, and it seems to have worked too – the reception we got was great."
He says the band are now in a luxurious position of not having to aim for the mainstream any more, freeing them up to try new things. The film is one example, Night Thoughts is another, an album on which they didn't try to write any radio hits, as they don't feel the pressure to have them.
Bassist Mat Osman agrees, adding that while they worked in a different way making the new album – recording much of the music first, in Belgium, without any lyrics – and that it was a challenge to make, it worked.
"It's the first time I can remember ever walking out of a studio having finished an album and saying, 'OK, let's do another one'," Osman, also 48, recalls.
"It's almost like there are some hanging threads from this that we could carry on with. And I would like to make something even less compromising next time, even less poppy, something that's really textural and less song-based. But then every time we've ever made an album with one idea, we've come out with something completely different, so who knows what we'll do in the future."
The fact both he and Anderson are talking about future albums is testament to the positive mood in the band at the moment. Anderson says he loves performing live, but doesn't relish the hours on tour not spent on stage, and can see the next record slowly taking shape in his head already.
"It's a very vague shape, but I'm thinking about it," he says. "But we finished Night Thoughts a long time ago, and premiered it in November, so I'm raring to go."
During their seven-year hiatus, the record industry changed beyond recognition. Back in 2003, CDs were still selling by the lorryload, and downloading music hadn't reached the mainstream (though it was the year Apple launched the iTunes Music Store).
Budgets for bands like Suede aren't what they used to be either – but Anderson doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
"When I think of the money-wasting videos we made in the 90s, it makes me sick," he admits. "Just because we could spend £200,000 on video, we did. There's a fraction of that money available now, but it means you have to be inventive and more original.
"It also means there are little niches for bands to occupy, and we're not all shoehorned into the mainstream. It's really freeing for us."
There's a certain irony to the fact that Suede's two most recent albums have been good enough to propel them back towards the mainstream.
"Possibly," says Anderson, who insists he's happy either way. "We're not aiming at that any more, and we're quite happy on this artistic journey."
Of the new album, he believes When You Are Young was key.
"All the way through, we were looking for a key theme to come back with, a strong melody to bring back into the album, like you might with a motif throughout a soundtrack," he explains. "And that song, with the riff, brought it all together. And I realised what I was writing about, which was youth, ageing, decaying, and family – all these things that bring the album together."
Those themes are reintroduced later in the similarly titled When You Were Young, which tells almost the same story, but examines them with the benefit of hindsight.
Outsiders, meanwhile, is his favourite song on the album.
"It's not the most avant garde track, but I love it. A relative of some of our other songs, really, which I'm fine with. It's not new territory for me, but I love the brutal post-punk aspect to it."
"We've worked really hard to keep our standards high," concludes Osman, "and it does get harder, feels a bit like work, but the rewards are just as great. Perhaps the most important thing is that we all still like each other. We didn't split because we fell out, it was because we couldn't make music any more.
"But we've rediscovered that, and I wake up every morning thinking how lucky we are to be doing this again."
:: Night Thoughts is out now. Suede play Dublin's Olympia Theatre on Wednesday February 10.
EXTRA TIME – SUEDE
:: Suede formed in 1989, with Justine Frischmann and Bernard Butler among the line-up, and later Justin Welch on drums. Frischmann would soon leave to form Elastica, taking Welch with her.
:: They released their self-titled debut album in 1993, followed by Dog Man Star in 1994.
:: That same year, Butler left acrimoniously. He's since become a producer and formed McAlmont & Butler, and later made up with former Suede bandmate Brett, forming The Tears together in 2004.
:: Butler was replaced by Richard Oakes, who, upon hearing of the vacancy, wrote a letter to the band's fan club saying, "Take me or leave me". Despite being just 17 at the time, he was invited to the join.
:: Mat Osman's younger brother is Richard Osman, who co-presents TV's Pointless alongside Alexander Armstrong.