I got into Suede around 2009. I say got, it was more like falling head over heels in pure unadulterated bliss over your first crush in the school play-park. I was 15 and had never heard anything so over-blown. It was the antidote to my retiring shyness. They made me want to pogo on stage at the Brits while whipping myself with a microphone.
At the centre of my cataclysmic love affair was Brett Anderson, the extraterrestrial lead singer with a nasal, high pitched cockney snarl (although Brett grew up in Haywards Heath, 36 miles away from London). I grew my fringe out and sucked my cheeks in so as to get that Brett look. I ate the Suede discography up like Augustus Gloop and his chocolate river. I also enjoyed The Tears with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler reuniting with Brett in 2004 for one gloriously, silly bombastic pop record. I mean it had a lead single dedicated to the human race all being refugees drifting like trees underneath a swaggering string section and Butler’s stirring guitar work.
And then we come to Brett Anderson’s solo work. This is the natural progression for a Brett Anderson fan. His solo work is not as maligned as latter day Suede (I’ll have nothing said against ‘Obsessions’ mind) not as lauded as your Animal Nitrates or Metal Mickeys.
It therefore may come as a surprise to hear that Brett is repackaging his four solo albums. Yet without these formative pieces of work in Anderson’s maturation as a songwriter we would never have had a comeback as glorious as Suede’s two most recent albums, ‘Bloodsports’ and ‘Night Thoughts’.
He became less of a Britpop cartoon character, doing away with the ambiguous androgyny, and found comfort in writing lusciously romantic love songs.
His first, self-titled album features a Wolfgang Tillmans photo of Brett with cropped hair. It’s a cleansing of sorts as Brett attempts to channel his inner Scott Walker with a heavily orchestrated effort. Lead single, ‘Love is Dead’ is a sign of Brett’s later ambition but the lyrics possess the awkward fumbling that persist throughout the album as Brett sings about “plastic people” with “fear in their eyes”.
Anyone familiar with the Suede discography will know how affecting Brett’s voice can be when the instrumentation is stripped back. The deeply personal ‘Wilderness’ is probably a step to far in this regard but Brett’s voice drifts effortlessly and elegantly around any piece of music.
Once again it’s a formative step, with Brett sounding more confident with this stripping back in the following album, ‘Slow Attack’. That emotive falsetto rises so effortlessly under simple instrumentation on ‘Hymn’ that it feels like a religious experience. Its windswept cinematic outlook is a natural parent to Suede’s ‘Night Thoughts’.
'Black Rainbows' is tough and taut post-punk. Anderson’s voice still yelps with overzealous eagerness but there’s more control than his early Suede days. ‘The Exiles’ is delicately balanced between thumping chorus and lilting verse. ‘Brittle Heart’ is simultaneously triumphant and tragic.
It’s a fantastic dress rehearsal for Suede’s astute comeback. It was Brett’s last two albums and his collaborations with songwriting partner Leo Abrahams that completed his journey from foppish bohemian wonder kid of Britpop to a sophisticated, elder statesman of British rock. There’s still enough Brett for the old fans to enjoy but it set him up for a return to the day job, in a comeback that would introduce Suede to a new generation of fans.
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'Brett Anderson - Collected Solo Work' is out now.
Words: Richard Jones