THE BLUE HOUR
Grand, operatic and driven by dark Gothic tales, The Blue Hour sees Britpop survivors Suede rely less on stylish, glam-rock/guitar-pop trappings and more on dramatic and emotional flourishes.
Their third album since reforming in 2010 and the eighth overall, the 14-track release conjures up images of doomed romantics and desolate landscapes. And while several tracks are single-friendly, it is an album best savoured as a whole.
In the album-opener, a lofty rock opera called As One, singer Brett Anderson's trademark nasal howl grapples with tension-building strings and a full-blown choir. He later switches to Gregorian chants in the eerie Chalk Circles, which, like most of the songs, sees the band backed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
Tracks like Life Is Golden ("You're not alone/Look up to the sky and be calm"), Don't Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You and The Invisibles ("And we are the invisibles/Plain and lonely") speak to outsiders, offering solace to the ones who are different and yearning for things out of reach.
Wastelands, with chiming, minor chord guitars by co-songwriter and guitarist Richard Oakes, paves the way for an escape ("When it all is much too much/We'll run to the wastelands"), as does Beyond The Outskirts, with its soaring chorus and unexpectedly heavy bridge ("Beyond the outskirts, come with us/We'll jump out of the page and into the fire").
The spoken word Roadkill waxes lyrical about finding a bird carcass, a motif repeated later in the sampled conversation between a father and his young son in Dead Bird.
Amid sweeping orchestral strings, Anderson sings of burying a loved one in All The Wild Places ("Out of all the wild places I love/You are the most desolate") and takes the listener far out "to the verges, by the nettles, by the roundabout" where he will "pick you wild roses, in the tunnels like the underpass" in the gorgeously opulent album-closer Flytipping.
The reverb-laden, cavernous sound and expansive nature of the album brings to mind the band's 1994 opus, Dog Man Star, arguably their finest work, albeit one done with former guitarist Bernard Butler. Still, The Blue Hour stands out with its own gritty yet majestic charm.
Once dubbed "the best new band in Britain" in the early 1990s, Suede's position is reaffirmed by this album as the scene's elder statesmen, who are not content to just rest on their hallowed past discography.