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The last time as much was at stake on a Suede album as Bloodsports, it was 1996, they’d just sacked guitarist Bernard Butler and critics dismissed the beleaguered band as overhyped or just plain over.
The result was the glittering Coming Up, the band’s revenge, commercial apogee and – unknown to everyone – the beginning of a long, drawn-out decline. That decline culminated in 2002’s listless A New Morning, unloved by critics, fans and public alike, and leading to a merciful split.
Fans were delighted by the band’s live reunion in 2010, but more divided over news that the band had returned to the studio. Would a sixth record further illustrate the law of diminishing returns which saw Suede plummet from the swaggering beauty of their first three records to the confused inconsistency of their final two? Or might it restore their reputation?
Well, Suede’s notoriously rabid fanbase – and the band, no doubt – can relax. If Bloodsports can’t quite match the bloody passion of their debut or the vaulting beauty of their masterpiece, Dog Man Star, it easily bests its two patchy predecessors.
Singer Brett Anderson has described the record as a cross between Dog Man Star and Coming Up, but Bloodsports is actually its own beast.
While it occasionally wanders into the same epic territory as Dog Man Star (notably on the dark, squalling storm of Sabotage and the sombre ballad Faultlines) and sometimes echoes the punchy catchiness of Coming Up (the brutishly effective It Starts and Ends With You and the stadium-sized Hit Me), it’s the band’s most organic, raw and unselfconscious record to date.
It also finds Suede exploring new sonic territory, something unexpected at this late stage in their career. For the Strangers is sweet and simple, not words normally associated with the band, its subtle but sure melody slowly building to a big warm hug of a chorus.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum lies What Are You Not Telling Me?, a stark and spooked piano ballad which blossoms into a desperately sad chorus. There are lesser moments, too, particularly the unmemorable Always, and Bloodsports plays it too safe to restore the band to the vanguard of British pop.
But it’s a fine Suede record, a passionate and seductive creature which reminds us of how distinctive and dynamic this most underestimated band can be. And that is a little miracle in itself.Share