Suede 'Night Thoughts' album review: 'a good but flawed album best consumed as the deluxe edition with full audiovisual experience'
Suede, for me, are the finest English rock band of the last 30 years, by a distance. They write great song after great song, they’ve got real style and swagger, their concerts are genuinely thrilling, and in Dog Man Star, they created what is, to my mind, the greatest rock album of all time. (Yes, even better than Nevermind! Forgive me, 21-year-old Darragh…)
What I especially like about Suede is their sense of ambition. Thankfully, they’re not one of those dreary bands who churn out the same album over and over, using the same three chords and the same grab-bag of predictable lyrics.
Dog Man Star, for instance, was epic – almost operatic in its ambition. And as singer Brett Anderson has said of the new album Night Thoughts (out today), Suede wanted to “go somewhere else with it…make something with a bit more scope”.
Interestingly, the record was recorded as long ago as 2014. Presumably, it’s only being released now because it comes with an accompanying film, directed by Roger Sargent – available on the deluxe edition of the CD, and played as a backdrop when Suede perform the album live, as they will do in Dublin’s Olympia on February 10th.
They’ve got form for this sort of thing (there’s that ambition again): the 1995 VHS Introducing the Band featured original short films for non-singles including The Two of Us and Killing of a Flashboy. That idea worked well then, and it works brilliantly now.
Night Thoughts is, I suppose, a kind of concept album. The film begins with a troubled man wading into the sea and slipping under the water; then memories and images of his past come to mind and come to life in twelve songs of various styles and, it must be said, varying quality.
We find out how he got to this point, as he – and Night Thoughts – recalls the various incidents from one life.
Lyrically, the album is quite impressionistic and literary. (The title, I think, comes from Edward Young’s epic poem The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality, which was illustrated by the visionary artist and writer William Blake – a major influence on Anderson and Suede.) Themes of death, love, family, regrets, art, parenthood and loneliness are common throughout.
Musically, it’s cinematic, grand and large-scale: crashing guitar chords, doomy cellos and sweeping strings from a full orchestra, Anderson’s voice in full operatic flow.
The album has the widescreen ambition, then, of Dog Man Star – but crucially, not the songs. Or at least, not as many truly great ones.
Outsiders, Like Kids and, especially, No Tomorrow are blistering, stomping rockers. On the “slower” side, Pale Snow is lovely, Tightrope even more so, and the bookends of When You Are Young/When You Were Young lovelier still.
Unfortunately, a few of the ballads are let down by something pretty basic: the lack of a really good vocal melody. I find that the “bigger” the sound, the more it needs that melody; consequently, some of these songs feel strained, and my attention was wandering a bit.
So I’d recommend buying the deluxe edition and getting the full audiovisual experience. Night Thoughts is a good but flawed album. However, when you’re watching as well as listening, many of those flaws fade into insignificance; they don’t seem to matter for some reason.
And the opening and closing scenes in particular will send a shiver down your spine.