THERE'S A SONG PLAYING THROUGH ANOTHER WALL
Geez. I go and get all blog whiney and then someone points out to me that there's a new review of Cut My Hair on Amazon, and this reader, Sulia Serafine, couldn't have written a better message for me to hear. Not that I was so deathly low I was going to give it all up or anything, but I think everyone needs a reminder now and again of why they do what they do.
Another cause for celebration is that the debut single from The Tears comes out tomorrow. The Tears are the new band reuniting Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler, the creative duo behind the first two Suede albums. Butler left Suede after Dog Man Star and embarked on many different projects, and Suede continued with new creative personnel, but it was never the same. (Though, I personally feel Coming Up eclipses the self-titled debut for a pure glam rock jolt. But this isn't a post about Suede. If you'd like to read my feelings of the band, check this old post from when they split. Also, you can read Christopher McQuain's excellent write-up of The Tears here.)
Getting these songwriting greats back together worried me as much as it excited me. So often, bands can't go back again, can't rekindle whatever unique chemistry made their initial collaboration so thrilling. And for a band that was so important to me, it was particularly dangerous ground. What if they pulled a reverse Marty McFly and by their present actions made the past disintegrate?
Well, I'm happy to say that based on the live bootlegs and radio sessions circulating the internet, as well as the single and B-sides, we have gone back in time and it is 1995, and Brett has taken the energy he put into Coming Up and Bernard has taken the Wall of Sound he established for the pristine Sound of McAlmont & Butler album and they've found the natural step that would have followed Dog Man Star had they stayed together. Lest you mistake this as saying it sounds like some kind of dated nostalgia, it doesn't. The music of The Tears sounds more fresh and new then when Suede debuted in 1992. Given the current karaoke-stylings that are all over the radio, The Tears sound more pure and energized and are very much of the present than the new bands half their age.
Hyperbole? Yes. True and correct? Affirmative.
"Refugees" clocks in under three minutes, and it's like a tornado of sound. Bernard's guitar swirls and dips in front of a string section, backed by a hard-hit drumbeat and Spectorish sleigh bells. Brett has written one of his classic "me and you in love against the world" anthems, and if this music and these people don't make you feel young and alive, then I will personally help you find your burial plot, because you need to lie down, you look tired and peeked.
Of the B-sides, only "Feels Like Monday" sticks in the big-riff vein. It's got a day-of-the-week chorus, which I made fun of Morrissey for on "I Have Forgiven Jesus," but it's so right on here. "On Friday, well, I hatched a plan / On Saturday I wrote it down / I wrote it on my filthy hand to tell you it's over on Sunday / And now it feels like Monday." We also get treated to Anderson's fractured poetry ("my heart bleeds like a dee-vorce-ee"), high-pitched cooing, and the signature Bernard Butler pre-chorus chug.
The rest of the B-sides are moody and quiet, reminding us of the mythic Bs of yore (think "The Big Time," "The Living Dead," "High Rising"). "Southern Rain" is a gentle ballad of contentment in loneliness, of moving on from a severed relationship. It's sad while also cleansing. "Branded" sounds like doom and speaks of a prevailing despair in a consumer culture while steel and acoustic guitars fight it out with the tinkling piano that serves as rhythmic backbeat. "Break Away" is an updated version of "To The Birds" (Suede's own "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out") with Brett once more casting two lovers in an escape fantasy. In his world, we are all essentially alone against larger forces that can crush us ("this world is an apple rotting slowly/ other people are cattle dying lonely", but somehow by standing together, any two of us can beat it, can get away and find something more meaningful. Bernard backs him up on the piano again, wrapping it in swaths of ocean waves. It's otherworldly, reaching a crescendo that sounds like a spaceship launching. We are away.
It's a bit unfair of me to stack the new work up against the old so much, as any artist is going to view their latest endeavor as different from the last. The Tears are a different concern than Suede, with different goals, a different purpose--and yet, in the overall work of these two men, of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler, it's of one piece. I've written before of growing with artists, of getting behind them on their path and following them to where they want to go, and I can think of no better example than the transition of this songwriting duo from their past glory to their current triumph. It's so rare to see this kind of creative magic remain so solid. If only more of our favorite people could figure out how to do it.
Current Sountrack: The Tears, "Refugees" singles and BBC performances
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2005 Jamie S. Rich