7. The Blue Hour - Suede (Warners)
At the start of the year Brett Anderson's 'pre-fame' memoir, 'Coal Black Mornings' arrived unexpectedly. It may be one of the most compelling books written by a musical artist, it's vivid prose had far more in common with the painfully honest 'Just Kids' by Patti Smith and the candid memoirs of Go Between Robert Forster than Morrissey's frustratingly opaque 'Autobiography'.
The books tales of isolated communities, idiosyncratic family relationships, loves and loathings all fed into the lyrics that would define their early singles and debut album, of which a hefty silver anniversary edition was re-released this year as well. After the bands initial recognition, we know what happened next, we know the names of the other bands that became tabloid famous, and we know that Suede rose high again, fell hopelessly apart and then, after a decade apart, made a glorious return.
If 'Coal Black Mornings' and the re-released debut album provided portraits of the artists as young men then the autumnal 'The Blue Hour' reveals where they are now. As with many great artists, situations and surroundings may significantly change but their voice, their worldview, the thing that made them want to write and perform in the first place, is largely unchanged. The main narrator may be a child, we may no longer be in amongst the tower blocks and the nuclear skies may have been replaced by rural nightmares (listen to the chilling 'Roadkill' and 'Dead Bird'), but the lyrics are still imbued with the sense of grandeur, romance and outsiderdom that is present in their most well known works.
'The Blue Hour' may be their most boldly cinematic and, damn it, dramatic release since 'Dog Man Star.' From the burst of fierce guitar noise in the introduction of opener 'As One' it's evident that the album is guitarist Richard Oakes most expressive work. Oakes, keyboardist Neil Codling and screen composer Keith Armstrong all have a say in the orchestral arrangements (played by the City of Prague Philharmonic), that define the record. The strings on the passionate 'All The Wild Places' has echoes of Scott Walker's 'Plastic Palace People' and is equally as enticing.
In amongst this aforementioned drama, there is also room for some of Suede's most enchanting singles of their career. 'Life is Golden' has one of the bands most joyous and defiantly joyous choruses, whilst 'Wastelands' is as swaggering as anything that they achieved on 'Coming Up'. Added to this, 'Mistress' may be one of the only songs to be written about infidelity from the point of view of the child, it's one of the most tender songs Suede have ever written.
'The Blue Hour' is that rare thing, the sound of a band well into their third decade making their most confident, exciting and adventurous music. It may be their finest hour.
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