Suede’s last album Night Thoughts was a surprising late-career tour de force that took the excess of their mid-90s imperial phase and pushed it in a more grown-up, but altogether darker direction. Though this album is very much in keeping with its predecessor there is a still a definite tonal shift and it’s unmistakably a braver, weirder creature too.
Like Night Thoughts the tracks run seamlessly together making it clear you are intended to listen to it as one piece and, similar to that record, some parts of it make scant sense on their own but form important points on the overall journey. However where Night Thoughts had at its heart a fragility and vulnerability, The Blue Hour is markedly more ominous, oppressive and sinister.
As the song titles suggest it’s lyrically focused on the macro of domestic and rural drama but with a delivery and production that listeners will likely find either intensely affecting or faintly ridiculous, maybe even a bit of both. While it does contain quieter moments (along with some of the purest, gritty rock the band have produced in quite some time) it’s when it’s at it’s most brilliantly batshit that it throws all notion of simplicity or humility out the window and challenges the listener to either love it or loathe it. I can’t imagine many people being on the fence about the gothic extravagance of this album, but that’s as it should be I think.
A worthy successor to Night Thoughts and the sound of a band continuing to push themselves beyond the nostalgic rehash of most post-reunion endeavours. It won’t be for everyone but I doubt it was ever intended to be.
Track By Track
I’ve always liked opening tracks that aggressively set out the stall for the album and if you were unsure what you were getting into before pressing play then the funereal chanting and raw, chilling bombast of this track should give you a clue. Just to hammer things in it ends with an audio sample of voices shouting and dogs barking that sounds like the start of a horror movie. ‘When he smiles he looks like a fox but when he holds me we will be as one..’
Though I understand the desire to put something more familiar after the slightly brutal intro I find this both melodically and lyrically a bit too suede-by-numbers. It’s not that it’s a bad song, it’s just that it’s one we’ve heard before. It does however end with a wonderfully eerie quote from Wind In The Willows.
One of the tracks closest to some of the quieter moments of Night Thoughts but also most reminiscent of some of Brett Anderson’s solo work. This is the kind of swooning, brittle, slightly nasty vignette he is already adept at but bolstered by the extra heft of production and arrangement it’s given here.
Beyond The Outskirts
Beyond The Outskirts is essentially Wastelands but better. Lyrically very similar but with more interesting (almost Beatles-esque) melodies and some fantastic big chunky guitars, it does make me question the need for both tracks and I would definitely pick this as the stronger contender.
A queasy, lilting nursery rhyme that suddenly turns into a great big cacophony of medieval chanting .. yeah, i know what you’re thinking .. and it shouldn’t work but I swear it’s one of the highlights.
You can’t beat some lovely, banging, pissed off sounding rock. Brett spitting out ‘I’m a hare in the cat’s eyes’ in his best proto-punk. Lyrically and spiritually this is the antonym of Night Thoughts’ The Fur & The Feathers. One of the definite highlights of the record for me and should be a monster live.
Life Is Golden
Another highlight track, Life Is Golden is a soaring, anthemic, hook-stuffed beauty. Classic nu-Suede with a dash of Manic Street Preachers.
I’m still undecided if a morbid, spoken word piece about a dead bird set over hymnal chanting is a shade too far on the pretension-ometer or not but I’ve got to admire the commitment to the cause.
This track hasn’t really grabbed me yet but it’s interesting enough that I expect it to be a grower.
Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You
I loved this track when it was released earlier in the year and I still find it to be one of the stronger songs on the album. Gritty but hooky and most reminiscent perhaps of something like No Tomorrow or Outsiders from the last album.
A wonderfully creepy interlude and a good reason not to put your music library on shuffle when you have guests round.
All The Wild Places
It’s been a while since I said Scott Walker in a suede review but this song is gorgeously Walkeresque, specifically the strings are very Plastic Palace People. A charming, romantic sigh of a thing in general.
Probably the track that feels most like something from Bloodsports, Invisibles was the first song released as a teaser for the album and though it seemed a decidedly obtuse choice at the time it also seemed encouraging that the album was going to be good not least because they were happy to chuck out something as lovely as this so early in the promo trail.
The standout track on the album, Flytipping pulls off the sacred combo of being epic, melodic, hook driven and lyrically strong. And then just when you think you know what it is the drums kick in and it takes you to the end of the record with full-on bombastic guitar shrieking prog noise, soaring choirs and glorious strings. An album that starts and ends with ridiculous, wonderful excess is rarely a bad thing in my book.
TITLE: The Blue Hour
MOOD: Gothic melodrama in the English countryside