Unpopular Advent 2018 – Day 14

Suede – The Blue Hour

For many years I told anyone who asked that I did not much care for Suede. The roots of this are firmly set in May of 1992 when I made a choice in a Reading record store between two debut singles that, I believe, had both garnered ‘Single Of The Week’ status from the ‘NME’ or ‘Melody Maker’ at a time in my life when These Things (still, just about) Mattered. A toss of a coin, a flick of the wrist and the choice was made. ‘Sunshine Smile’ by Adorable triumphed over ‘The Drowners’ and my irrational snooty disapproval of Suede began.

It did not help their case that Suede almost immediately became fully anointed by the music press as The Ones. Blushing flushes of enthusiasm over singles I could handle, but preening multi page articles and cover stardom was another matter. This is how it is when you are young enough to care about such things and old enough to tip things on their heads and be intentionally obtuse and dismissive about them. On reflection I would not have it any other way and besides, it meant certain delights passed over became hidden treasures for future pleasure.

Suede certainly became a future pleasure. Indeed, it was only after they had burned brightly, faded away, been all-but forgotten and then unexpectedly reappeared that my interest was piqued. New friends whose tastes I trusted were little short of devotional (and sometimes somewhat in excess of obsessive) and so I dipped a toe. Thus it was that 2016’s ‘Night Thoughts’ was the first Suede record I bought and it is only by some strange oversight that it did not feature in the advent series of that year, for it was certainly one of my most played and enjoyed records. One thing I enjoyed about that record was its sense of the cinematic or the theatrical and indeed this notion of Pop as theatre is a common thread I start to see emerge during this year, which is perhaps to say in my ever-changing interests. It is not something I would have welcomed in younger years but as we have said, this is okay. This is not an unpleasant development.

If there was something of the cinematic in ‘Night Thoughts’ it is certainly extended and further exposed on ‘The Blue Hour’. Is the trilogy of records from ‘Bloodsports’ to ‘Blue Hour’ some kind of strange concept? Is it a wildly extravagant Progressive Rock narrative of the imagination? Perhaps, perhaps. I am sure that this is documented somewhere and I am sure that some of those aforementioned obsessives can enlighten me but I am not sure I am ready for such things, not sure I am sufficiently willing to be immersed in the depths of madness I suspect is at play here. For ‘The Blue Hour’ is certainly somewhat unhinged and nonsensical in that the feel of the record is one of opaqueness and uncertainty. In this it recollects the Rolling Blackouts record and one wonders if RBCF were Suede fans in their youth. It would certainly fit.

This opaqueness and uncertainty, this infusion of tension and anxiety that sits across the entirety of ‘The Blue Hour’ is perhaps what makes it so compelling as a product very much of its time(s). It is a record that feels both vasty monumental and wearily decrepit. It puts me in mind of The Who pissing against that concrete monolith, itself a nod to ‘2001’ of course and there is that cinematic, theatrical reference creeping back again. So it goes. So it is. So it will always be.

Critics will doubtless cast aspersions on Brett Anderson’s aspirations to literary landscapes (I admit to having had a copy of his ‘Coal Black Mornings’ on my ‘to-read’ pile for some considerable time, but that it remains unread is more to do with a general aversion to Rock Biographies than anything else more personal) and this is certainly to the fore on ‘The Blue Hour’, never more so than on my favourite track ‘Wastelands’. Obviously referencing Eliot’s poem (can anything using that title ever escape the inevitable shackling of reference, at least in part? No, thought not.) ‘Wastelands’ segues neatly and seamlessly from album opener ‘As One’ and firmly sets the mood of the album as one of bleak sensuality. Like Gravenhurt’s magnificent ‘Hollow Men’, ‘Wastelands’ conjures a cacophonous world of strangely compelling ugliness. Juxtaposing seductive imagery (“I watch the sweat fall / Against your clothes”) with hardness (“the car beside the road” and severing ties) the song knowingly plunders our shared library of visual metaphors. Then there is something exquisite about the way in which Anderson delivers that line about “the way you make your exits / there are no words” (although when I first heard the song I thought he was singing about her handwriting “and the way you make your ‘x’s” which actually I think is a much better line. Brett, if you are reading this, you can have that one on me). Admittedly those lines about how “our veins are opened” feel clumsy and just too sixth-form-tortured-poet but then again isn’t that just exactly what Eliot’s poem connects to most obviously? Perhaps it all fits after all.

Musically ‘Wastelands’ treads the fine line between overbearing and accessable. It is firmly in the tradition of Guitar Rock Music, and if sometimes that can be the worst condemnation of all, sometimes too it can be a heartening compliment. Again, ‘bleak sensuality’ feels apposite in describing the sounds so let us recycle that phrase and be done with it. It is there too in Anderson’s vocal delivery, most notably in the way he delivers his S’s. Sibilant and harsh, if they occasionally seem All Too Much then that surely is an intentional part of the deal. Here is frustration. Here is diabolical betrayal, a desperate need to find something lost that never existed in the first place. Theatrical illusion, as we said.

So as the future unfurls in a violent flourish of uncertainty one thing we can be sure of is that Suede finally won their way into my heart. I look forward to continuing the journey.

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