The release of Bloodsports sees Britpop poster-boys Suede break their decade-long recording hiatus. Sure, they could’ve simply picked up their respective instruments and carried on from where they departed. Yes, their previous album A New Morning may have musically been a prototype for singer Anderson and ex-guitarist Butler’s reunion in The Tears, but it was lacking what made Suede different from the later mainstays of Britpop. You’d be forgiven for thinking Bloodsports might be some nostalgic foray, yet it feels like an entirely new effort.
‘Barriers’ ceremoniously kick-starts the album with a simple but intense guitar line and cascading drums oddly reminiscent of Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’. The remainder of Bloodsports is perhaps a little less forced, but no less powerful. In that respect, ‘It Starts and Ends With You’ is an unsurprising single choice, although it’s not necessarily the best track on record; no song strikes out quite as emphatically as ‘Hit Me’, with its unyielding beat and a classic, fuzzy Suede solo – yes, even a band as serious as Suede can’t resist just a little self-referential throwback.
However, Bloodsports is more highly-polished compared with the previous two albums, perhaps down to the return of former producer Ed Buller. The end result is an otherwise brittle sound draped in a stylish gloss. Anderson’s signature delivery has also been revived, every word being exuberantly twisted, almost hissed. You could call the music romantic were it not for bouts of surreal meanderings like “we slither and slide and slip/stings like aerosol in my eyes” (from ‘For the Strangers’), which Anderson roguishly distorts into something apparently more beautiful.
Time has worked wonders on Bloodsports. If you are expecting songs to rival the anthemic ‘Animal Nitrate’ (or, indeed, if the only Blur album you listened to was Parklife), you may be disappointed. Nor does it have the glam-tastic optimism of Coming Up or Head Music. Instead, Suede have started afresh in an uncertain decade. That is played up by the fact that the album gets progressively more downbeat in the closing tracks, with ‘Faultlines’ and ‘What Are You Not Telling Me?’ sounding like an exaggerated farewell. A lone criticism is that this unease is definitely not true to the album itself. One thing’s for sure, though: this is not an awkward goodbye, but a glorious return.