Of all the reunions of the last decade or so, Suede’s return has been one of the most successful, with the band almost as acclaimed and loved as they were in their heyday.
There’s no resting on past glories, though – The Blue Hour, their third since reforming, is probably their bravest, most out-there album so far. Produced by Alan Moulder, and featuring the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and copious spoken-word and field recordings, it’s an epic as mysterious and threatening as the dusk that the title nods to. “Quite a journey,” as Brett Anderson recently told NME.
The opening As One presents the group’s new direction with eerie strings, a crescendo of feedback and one of Anderson’s most theatrical, Bowie-esque vocal performances, before Wastelands returns us to the Smiths-y swagger of classic Suede: here, however, it ends in spoken word and piano, like something from Max Richter’s The Blue Notebooks. Some of the most successful and stunning tracks here similarly mix the anthemic and the alternative, such as Chalk Circles, which begins like Depeche Mode industrial synth-pop and ends with the chiming guitars of prime Magazine.
The 14 songs on The Blue Hour are all joined together like a grand orchestral suite, too, and linked by their themes. Gone are the rowdy, randy council estates of old, replaced by Anderson’s dark musings on childhood and the evils of England’s countryside. It all reaches a peak with the final three tracks: All The Wild Places is a symphonic ballad, but it’s topped in intensity by The Invisibles; after its Bond-theme grandeur, the closing Flytipping, with its strings, choir and Richard Oakes’ bittersweet shards of lead guitar, is even more dramatic.
The Blue Hour can be overwrought, sure – this is serious music – but invest some listening time in it, and it becomes clear that this is as ambitious, as doomy and perhaps as confident as Suede have ever sounded.