Suede's new album Autofiction is so energetic and immediate, it's led me to re-evaluate the London art rock band and Britpop itself.
For a couple of years, as a ‘90s kid growing up in suburban Edinburgh, the choice of bands to call myself a fan of felt limited. It was either Oasis or Blur. Despite having no skin in the North vs. South England game that seemed to dominate the rivalry, most people I knew picked the Mancunians. Impressed with Liam’s swagger and the band's general air of confidence, I was no different.
I may have guiltily enjoyed tunes like ‘Parklife’ and ‘Girls and Boys’, but the anthems from (What’s the Story) Morning Glory completely dominated my listening patterns for what felt like a long time (it was the same again as a 17-year-old in 2004, when I re-discovered Definitely Maybe during its tenth anniversary year). Not much else got a look in. Bands like Suede simply weren’t on the radar.
Over the years though, as horizons opened up and I reflected on the time period with fresh eyes, the importance of the London art rock band, who were initially held together by the partnership of singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler, became all too obvious.
Suede's performance of ‘Animal Nitrate’ at the 1993 Brit Awards is endlessly fawned over in books, articles and documentaries about Britpop (in particular John Harris' The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock which I read last year). Its today recognised as a pivotal moment for opening the gates to a new brand of British rock. Meanwhile, albums like Dog Man Star (1994) and Coming Up (1996) are two of the most celebrated of the Britpop era. And the older I got, the more I realised that Britpop was far more than the story of two bands.
That’s not to say they went under the radar for everyone. Suede, like Pulp, were regarded as amongst the hottest bands of their time, it’s just with the wider mainstream they struggled to get a look in on the same level as you know who. They’re often defined by those early years, before a tumultuous end of decade followed. Within a few years, as a new era of indie rock came around - fronted by The Strokes no less - Suede called it a day before reforming again a decade later.
Despite having my respect, I’d be lying if I ever admitted to being a fan. They largely failed to capture my imagination. Then it all changed. I heard their new album Autofiction and immediately reconsidered my ambivalence!
Having spent a week listening to the bleak (and brilliant) new Death Cab For Cutie album recently for a review I produced for Gigwise, last week I was on the lookout for something a little more uplifting. To my surprise, Suede had just released a new album and, with nothing else on my horizon, I jumped in with nothing to lose.
How happy I am that I did. From the first moment to the last, I was immediately blown away by the quality of the music on offer. The music was immediate, urgent and, at times, breathless. How had I ignored this band for so long?
Autofiction is Suede’s ninth studio album and first since 2018’s The Blue Hour. It’s a back-to-basics album full of soaring guitar anthems, big and punchy chorus and plenty of nostalgic drama. Over the 45-minutes rarely a moment is wasted, the band breathing a new lease of life into their already legendary career. It’s bound to win over a new fan or two. Shy and retiring it is not.
Opener ‘She Still Leads Me’ emotionally touches on the death of Brett’s mother and the strength of love he held for her (“And I loved her with a love that was strong as death / And I loved her when she was unkind”). The pounding bass and wailing guitars combine perfectly on the post-punk track ‘Black Ice’, while ‘Drive Myself Home’ and ‘What am I Without You’ are piano-led ballads which bring the tempo down while still maintaining the power and tension of before.
There’s a sense of ominous drama running on tracks like ‘Personality Disorder’, ’It Always the Quiet Ones’ and ‘Shadow Self’, all gripping in their own right. Meanwhile, Anderson’s vocal deliveries feel as urgent as a man half his age throughout. On the gothic-inspired closer ‘Turn off Your Brain and Yell’, cries of “reveal yourself” leave us departing the record on an impactful eerie note.
Speaking about the album to the NME, frontman Anderson revealed “I wanted to come back and make something that felt a little bit more raw, a little bit more angry, a little bit more nasty. 'Autofiction' is our punk record, and we're f***ing proud of it.” And so they should be.
From being respectfully ambivalent in the past, I’m happy to admit I’m moving into fan territory. It’s only taken almost thirty years to get there. Autofiction is full of drama, urgency and reflection, performed by a band sounding two decades younger than they actually are. Their new one is already an album of the year contender for me. Now time for a Suede back catalogue revisit to hear what I've been missing out on all these years...