Brett Anderson does not want us to talk about Suede when reviewing his solo work. He has made this abundantly clear in interviews over the years. The problem is, the only reason anyone knows who he is, cares what he does, or is talking about Slow Attack, his third solo release, is precisely because of the unabashed greatness he created with his iconic ‘90s Britpop outfit. The man often seems fairly put out by being Brett Anderson, and has responded by becoming Bizarro World Brett Anderson.
In the old DC comics, Bizarro World was a planet where inhabitants did everything the opposite of their Earthling counterparts. So, where the old Brett Anderson effortlessly fashioned hooks that would invade your brain and take up permanent residence, Bizarro-Brett favors meandering tunes with only the most minimal adherence to a verse-chorus-verse structure. Old Brett wrote wickedly clever and biting lyrics; Bizarro-Brett wants to use words “impressionistically”, with the net result being that nary a phrase sticks in the mind, even after repeated listenings. Old Brett made messy, guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll; Bizarro-Brett sits at a piano with lots of woodwinds and flutes and oboes around (but hardly any percussion).
It is simply too difficult to evaluate an artist who has been around for 20 years without reference to his past career, even if his new output bears little or no resemblance to the work that made him famous. Are we supposed to pretend Anderson is a new singer-songwriter on the scene, and treat Slow Attack as a debut? This is hardly plausible when the vast majority of his audience is made up of old Suede fans.
This release, like his previous effort, Wilderness (2008), was independently financed and released on Anderson’s own BA Records imprint. While it is usually applauded for artists to escape the capitalist clutches of the evil record industry suits, what with their insistence on “hearing a single” and “commercial appeal”, in this case one almost wishes for one of those mustache-twisting villains. They might have saved what is often an exercise in masturbatory self-indulgence. Anderson himself says it best in an early-2009 interview with the Quietus: “It wasn’t easy to make, and it probably isn’t easy to listen to.” For a more in-depth look at Anderson’s process on Slow Attack, read the rest of that interview here.
The opening track, “Hymn”, sets the tone for the rest of the record and indeed, the listener is hard-pressed to tell most of the songs apart. So pretty, so quiet. Pretty, quiet. One of the only brief spots of animation comes in during the bridge of the first single, “The Hunted”, and when it hits, you may never have been so relieved to hear a drum machine in your whole life. “The Swans” and “Julian’s Eyes” also provide some moments of drama and tension, a respite from the unrelenting sameness of the other nine cuts. The good news: Anderson’s vocals are strong and rich throughout, wonderfully free of the nasally affectation he relied on for so many years.
If somber, pastoral, and sedate are your buzzwords, and you plan to use this CD as accompaniment to painting your next still-life, or sharing a Taster’s Choice moment with a like-minded loved one, then this CD is right up your alley. Recently released from the hospital and need some quiet background music for your convalescence? Or simply a rabid Suede fan who worships Brett Anderson and will purchase anything the man releases until the day they lay you in the ground? Then I believe there is a market for this (very) Slow Attack.