Following their successful reunion and comeback album Bloodsports, English rockers Suede return with a bold, experimental project for 2016’s Night Thoughts.
The album, which was produced by long-time Suede collaborator Ed Buller, will also feature an accompanying film directed by acclaimed photographer Roger Sargent. “The record deals with a lot of familial themes — life, death, love, anguish and despair; themes that are expanded upon in its visual companion, providing a study of how those elements affect the human psyche,” Sargent explains.
The film itself begins with a man drowning in the waters of a deserted beach at night, as the album’s cinematic prelude ‘When You Are Young’ plays – which here serves as the thematic equivalent to Adele’s theme song to the 2012 James Bond film of the same name, Skyfall. As the man fights for life, his mind plays out the events that lead him to be there, which thereby creates the album’s conceptual narrative.
“Aside from the album’s ambitious filmic venture, possibly the most notable aspect from the LP is the immaculate performance of lead singer Brett Anderson’s distinctive – if not iconic – vocals.”
As the opening track, ‘When You Are Young’ manages to conjure such a peaceful, yet austere ambience beginning with its instrumental string section. Between the high pitched melodic riff and the foreboding, baritone undercurrent, the track eventually climaxes to a grandiose scale with Richard Oakes’ powerful lead guitar uniting with the strings for the track’s dramatic riff, before the rest of the band kick into gear.
Aside from the album’s ambitious filmic venture, possibly the most notable aspect from the LP is the immaculate performance of lead singer Brett Anderson’s distinctive – if not iconic – vocals. His wide tonal range is especially showcased in the album’s lead single ‘Outsiders’, keyboardist Neil Codling compared to early singles ‘Trash’ and ‘Beautiful Ones’ as “a rallying cry for the excluded”.
In fact, unlike many bands who reform after indefinite, often decade-long hiatuses, much of Suede’s new material remains consistent with that of their earlier catalogue, with tracks ‘No Tomorrow’, ‘What I’m Trying To Tell You’ and ‘Like Kids’ pertaining to many of the band’s classic compositional elements. From Anderson’s progressive vocal assembly, extended instrumental bridges and uncomplicated lyricism, each track ferments their revival.
Perhaps one of the biggest dangers in delivering a studio album which is innately conjoined with another project is its subsequent ability to then be consumed by audiences as either a whole, or two entirely autonomous entities. With the band’s two critically acclaimed theatrical shows at London’s Roundhouse last November, which saw the band premiere the audacious enterprise live from behind the film’s projection screen, and since then the recent clarification that the film is to be made available alongside the LP in various special album packages, there leaves little doubt that the project can be enjoyed by audiences as one.
“It’s hard not to appreciate the lofty ambition the band had for this immensely rewarding work of art…”
However, for those who simply wish to invest in the pure conventionality of a seventh studio album by the glam rock quintet, added to the fact that the CD will also be available to purchase independently of the film, there is an apparent requirement to analyse the album as such. Undoubtedly, the “soundtrack” to Night Thoughts can be thoroughly enjoyed in and of itself, yet moments such as ‘Pale Snow’, ‘Learning To Be’ and the piano-driven reprise ‘When You Were Young’ at times appear as gratuitous appetisers in an already substantial auditory banquet, and serve much like the “transitions” between tracks of The Beatles’ similarly conceptual Love album, which was compiled and remixed as the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name.
After concluding with the rhapsodic ‘The Fur & The Feathers’, which is complete with orchestral and choir arrangements, it’s hard not to appreciate the lofty ambition the band had for this immensely rewarding work of art, and impossible not to acknowledge that they have not only quite clearly succeeded, but exceeded any critic’s expectations.