Review: Suede – Autofiction

Suede Autofiction

Whether it’s punk or not, Suede deliver again.

Autofiction is our punk record. No whistles and bells. Just the five of us in a room with all the glitches and fuck-ups revealed; the band themselves exposed in all their primal mess.’

So speaks Suede frontman Brett Anderson of their new album, but if you’re expecting a huge divergence from the trademark Suede sound it’s best to manage expectations here. The key word in the above sentence is ‘our’: it’s the band’s version of punk – ethos, but not sound.

As much as Anderson might like to think he and his group are capable of ragged punk (and some dispensation must be allowed, they are promoting their ninth studio album, after all), they’re too long in the tooth for that now.

The musicianship found within Autofiction is simply too good, too proficient to be presented as snarling or in-your-face. It is Another Suede album. And a very good one too.

The ‘raw’ sound is immediately exemplified by the sound of a wire being plugged into an amplifier (the wire being disconnected is the last sound we hear, 46 minutes later) before the group launch into the pumping She Still Leads Me On.

Boisterous in that inimitable Suede way, it’s a string-drenched paean to Anderson’s late mother and oddly moving when put in that context (‘When I think of all the feelings I hid from her’), but the incandescent cries of ‘one, two’ before the final chorus are a dichotomy to that tone, while also indicating its readiness to be performed live.

The suitably spiky and uneasy Personality Disorder stomps up next, resplendent with descending bass and a spoken word verse. An amalgamation of their various forms, it’s Suede distilled and will appeal to both old and new fans (if there are any) alike.

15 Again tries a similar trick, rollicking along with the youthful zest of the subject matter, yet complete with classic Anderson imagery (‘afternoons in bedrooms and TV meals’) which immediately ranks it alongside their best singles.

The Only Way I Can Love You thrashes and howls, with a big sound and strong melody but, by this point in the album, the sound is wearing thin, although the swinging That Boy On The Stage has a welcome brevity when it follows.

Seemingly an insight into his stage persona, Anderson goes full falsetto, accompanied by restrained histrionics on guitar before things take a slower turn to close Side A.

Laughing in the face of their own proclamations, Drive Myself Home is operatic and grandiose, with mournfully pensive horns and lush orchestral ambience. Once again it’s hard to quantify it as punk in any meaningful sense, but the break is welcome.

The succinct Black Ice brings the volume back, as Anderson’s voice gleefully cracks at points during the verse lines, with a dense riff evocative of Queens Of The Stone Age until the familiar iciness returns.

The filmic and sinewy Shadow Self comes and goes, preceding the sweepingly dramatic It’s Always The Quiet Ones, something of a companion-piece to The Wild Ones.

What Am I Without You? fuses the two approaches, a sparse piano-driven verse explodes into life into a BIG Suede chorus, as Anderson evaluates his relationship to their fans.

Turn Off Your Brain And Yell closes proceedings before that wire pull, a marching rock song which builds as it goes, featuring some excellent drumming from Simon Gilbert.

In interviews leading up to the release of the album, Anderson and co. have been keen to stress that this album is about looking forward rather than back, yet we have titles such as 15 Again and much lyrical soul-searching.

Basically the lesson is, ignore the ambitions and soundbites and just appreciate it for what it is. It’s the sound of a band who still sound so much like themselves, but with a gusto and energy that belies their status as national treasures.

Since their renaissance, Suede have been consistently good and Autofiction, another fine album, sustains that momentum.

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