The first thing you might think to yourself once Bloodsports starts is “Why does Suede sound like British Sea Power now?” Brett Anderson’s distinctive squeal aside, opening cut “Barriers” evidences the shimmering, modernist post-punk inclinations that generously informed the singer’s 2011 solo outing Black Rainbows. At least we know what the group’s been listening to recently.
On a less jocular note, a listen to Suede’s first album in over a decade will probably elicit immediate thoughts more along the lines of “boy, this record is really damn good”. It really is, almost refreshingly so: for a good portion of its runtime Bloodsports glides from high point to high point with admirable ease and poise, as if that rocky road post-Coming Up never existed. Regardless of its blatant influences, “Barriers” is a very effective wide-scale opener, giving way to the snaky, sexy “Snowblind” and then lead single “It Starts and Ends with You”, a fantastically executed A-side that builds upon each idea introduced, treating each new hook as if it is a chorus in its own right. That single is the album’s peak, truth be told, but there are plenty later on in the LP’s trim tracklist (only 10 cuts total) to keep you fixated, like when Suede gamely indulges its eternal glam fixation with the glittery stomp of “Hit Me”.
For a band that’s swung from over-obsessed critical darling to terribly out of fashion more than once since it first gained noticed 20 years ago, Bloodsports is the kind of comeback one wishes hardest for. People can quibble for an eternity over whether or not Suede was truly deserving of the megahype the British music press whipped up during the dawn of Britpop, but at the (very) least the act has put out some rather good singles with a touch of thrilling excitement about them. It’s a tall order for any outfit to hit similar marks again after prolonged creative inactivity, so Suede gets a decent grade from the outset for not turning in an atrocity for its reformation record.
As I said before, it’s far from being a dud. Time will tell how it is received critically and commercially, but I’ll say this: at this point I think I enjoy Bloodsports as a singular entity more than group’s mega-lauded debut LP. Part of that favoritism, I admit, is due to Bloodsports’ relative dearth of ponderous ballads. Though Suede is partial to them (you can see the appeal, given the band’s artier inclinations), the format has rarely been becoming to the group. Continuing in that tradition, Bloodsports gives listeners “What You Are Not Telling Me”, the album’s dullest number. It’s followed by close kin “Always” and “Faultlines” to end the album, but the band avoid turning those offerings into rudderless snoozefests by delivering them with soul-stirring bombast.
But Bloodsports appeals to me also because it rolls by so easily. In between the genuine stunners, in the past Suede had the propensity to come off as stiff and overfussed—traits the band seems to have shorn itself of. Suede doesn’t feel like it’s forcing itself into attempting to make an LP the equal of its earlier efforts—it just does it, radiating charm without breaking a sweat. Part of me wonders if the explanation for this victorious outcome is merely the ruthless editing that’s evidenced by the short runtime, a sleight of hand intended to show the world only the absolute best the reunited unit could muster. Yet listening to Bloodsports, I can’t complain with the results. Even if there are only ten tracks to feast upon, it’s clear that Suede is back in force, and Brett and the boys sound cooler than ever.