After Suede’s largely-panned album, A New Morning, in 2002, their 2013 album Bloodsports sounded like they were begging to be forgiven. It was a play-it-safe album that aimed to win back people they had alienated. The album was made up of glam pop like Coming Up (their commercial peak) and dark ballads similar to Dog Man Star (their creative peak). Bloodsports didn’t erase the memory of A New Morning, but it did show that they could put out a very strong comeback record. Now Suede have returned with Night Thoughts, to see if the goodwill they won back is still there.
The lead singles aren’t the strongest or most representative songs on Night Thoughts. The first, ‘Outsiders’, begins like a 1980s U2 single. Richard Oakes’ guitar playing has a post-punk feel that reinforces how underrated he is. It sounds like Suede are competing with younger groups inspired by the genre like Savages and The Horrors. The effort almost succeeds, but the song doesn’t hit the same heights as previous outsider anthems like ‘Trash’ or ‘Beautiful Ones’. ‘Like Kids’ aims to please fans of their poppier side, but it doesn’t quite get there. The chorus tries too hard and lyrically Anderson slips back into autopilot when he sings, “the smell of chemicals”. The weakness of this line is accentuated by the overall strength of his Night Thoughts lyrics, which are his strongest since Dog Man Star.
The rest of Night Thoughts is much stronger. ‘What I’m Trying To Tell You’ is the best of the rockier moments. Anderson’s spoken interlude evokes 1994’s ‘Stay Together’ and is just as dramatic. Not many people can pull off the lines, “yours is the face of the desperate edge of now”. They even get away with reusing their trademark “la la’s” as the song closes.
The biggest strengths on Night Thoughts are the reflective songs when they move away from repeating their formula. ‘When You Were Young’ is a suitably cinematic way to start. The dramatic orchestration is matched in ambition by a breathtaking chorus, with instrumentation that finds Suede sounding inspired again. ‘Pale Snow’ is delicate and made by the second half when the guitars drop out and a wave of ethereal beauty washes over you, as if it’s suddenly going to turn into OMD’s ‘Souvenir’. It’s a moment that is as fleeting as it is beautiful.
‘Learning To Be’ is haunting and has a gorgeous vocal from Anderson. The way the song disappears in a puff of smoke towards its end is devastating. ‘The Fur & The Feathers’ closes Night Thoughts and is as over-the-top as Dog Man Star’s finale, ‘Still Life’. Putting ‘Like Kids’ awkwardly in the middle of this gorgeous suite of songs is a curious move, like they didn’t trust the listener to stick with them through this bleak second act.
Bloodsports was a more immediate album to make sense of, but ultimately that will work in Night Thoughts’ favour. Its appeal is likely to be greater over time since they’ve taken bigger risks and created an album as a whole, instead of just sticking to the template of their past successes. There’s a resurgence in confidence in the playing and songwriting that suggests they can keep this rejuvenation going. Suede definitely won’t need to make another apology record this time around.
Night Thoughts ends with Anderson repeating the lines, “it’s the thrill of the chase”, which is very fitting for a group that have been at their most compelling when they’ve appeared to be in search of something. Let’s hope they don’t stop now.