Brett Anderson - Wilderness

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it”.

A decade is an eternity in pop. In 1998, Brett Anderson was toppermost of the poppermost. Despite calls of 'time gentlemen please' after the revered Anderson & Butler dream team dissolved, Suede went on to flog a million of their perky Butler-free album 'Coming Up'. But today in 2008, Mr. Andersons 2nd solo album won't even hit the Top 40.

Suede's leader was one of the last frontmen with genuine style before Government law declared all popstars must look like plumbers. An evolution of Bowie and Morrissey, Brett gave great interview, had great hair and looked the part even in the cheapest of suits. Early Suede gigs were like Vietnam, with fans as ferociously passionate as The Smiths' or the Manics'. They mixed with the likes of Derek Jarman, Jane Birkin, Stina Nordenstam, PSB, David Bowie and Peter Saville. Not for them falling out of The Ivy with Dean Gaffney.

Sans Butler, Suede Mk2 were cursed to live in the shadow of those landmark first two albums. Despite initial success, attempts to remodel ('A New Morning') were badly received. In the late '90s, at least one critic amusingly noted that by dropping key lyrical trademarks ('nuclear skies', 'winter', 'council estates', 'trash', etc) into a hat you could write your own Suede songs. In 2003, anyone who suffered the final offering - 'Love The Way' - would've happily pulled the plug, albeit with teary eyes. It was, what's the word?...oh yes, crap.

Post Suede, a Butler / Anderson rebirth as 'The Tears' failed to ignite and it was apparent the glam-rock fop pot had run dry. All but written out of pop history and frustrated with 'unit sales' and 'campaigns', Mr Anderson took his mirror ball and went home.

Sadly, last year's eponymous solo return also passed unnoticed despite being one of 2007's classier releases, particularly the tear-stained 'Love Is Dead'.

You have to admire him then for defiantly following his outsider muse to its logical conclusion - isolation and exile. He'll be in good company. This is the no-mans land haunted by the likes of Tom Waits, Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen, 'way down in the hole'. No chat shows or reality TV for these guys.

Recorded over just one week, this new record strips back further to just vocal, acoustic guitar, piano and cello. The result is an intimate, mournful sound, perfect for the brooding late summer evenings ahead.

Two tracks are instantly recognisable to fans having been released previously in alternate versions. 'Back To You', a 2007 single, here becomes a duet with actress Emmanuelle Seigner. Her frosty Nico-esque voice perfectly compliments the sorrowful tone and her surprise appearance adds real cinematic drama. Fan favourite 'Clowns' , promoted here from an old B-side, again offers proof (check Suede's 'Sci-fi Lullabies' B-sides collection) that Brett keeps his best for flip sides. It also challenges Goldfrapp to the title of “Best song called 'Clowns' ever”.

Amy Langley deserves credit for her Cello playing which becomes almost another voice on the record alongside Bretts. Cellos in acoustic pop became a bit of an emotional cliché after Nirvanas' 'Unplugged' but here it's integral to the music rather than pasted on for effect.

One highlight, 'Blessed', echoes R.E.M.'s 'Nightswimming' and it's that band's mighty 'Automatic For The People' that proves this album's closest spiritual companion. Lyrically we still have the 'sisters in the suburbs' of 'London's Wilderness', but through the eyes of an older,wiser man. Anderson's lyrics are full of vivid imagery from the 'clowns,tumbling into town' to girls with 'missing teeth and mystic eyes','mauve pillows and laddered tights'. It's refreshing to be reminded there are still some imaginative writers in pop. The numerous motifs of nature and nostalgia create a consistent atmosphere, poetic and picturesque. This is a wilderness encircled by cherry blossom trees, the poets' symbol of lifes transient nature. It's an emotional 'Heavy Mutha', though mostly cathartic. Better file some Girls Aloud behind it though for a post-match lift.

Admittedly over the course of a whole (albeit slight) album, it can feel a bit relentless and monotone. Stare at the abyss for too long and all you'll see is your own reflection. Accusations of pretentiousness - it ends with the sound of a door closing - would prove hard to defend too. It definitely lacks contrast or levity, and for someone whose previous band was described as glamorising 'rent boy chic' that's surprising. Although 'The Empress'' lyric 'Didn't I follow her orders? Didn't I clean her shit' certainly raises an eyebrow. The weakest track, 'Funeral Mantra', also tragically (but hilariously) sounds like the Mighty Boosh's 'Isolation'.

From despair to where? Oscar Wilde believed 'wisdom comes with winters', but next time here's hoping BA will fly into brighter (nuclear?) skies. Leonard Cohen and Eels prove you can make life's complexities moving, humorous and uplifting - if we're going down we want to see the bright lights first, even if they're just neon.



out of 10

Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:40:21

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