If Brett Anderson’s fourth solo album isn’t quite the fringe-flicking hit hoped for from a man who reclaimed his fop-rock crown at Suede’s reunion gigs, the reason might lie in the timing. Working with go-to session guy Leo Abrahams, Anderson mapped out Black Rainbows before Suede’s resurgence. So it’s less an album spurred by Suede’s rebirth than his flirtation with the idea of fronting a rock band again, still the metier that most suits Anderson but one that’s only tentatively embraced here.
A self-reinvention it isn’t, as the cover affirms. Cheekbones? Check. Shadows? Check. But Black Rainbows at least quiets concerns that Anderson’s hair is fuller than his creative tank. If his morose 2009 album, Slow Attack, made Anderson sound aged before his time – the camp-macho king of wastrel town reduced to glum reveries about swans and sipping tea – the opening fuzz of feedback here suggests he’s popped some pain relief and started sloughing off the 90s hangover.
The opening Unsung slow-broods towards the kind of epically swooning chorus his voice is made for. The single Brittle Heart is better still, summoning reserves of louche swagger to prove that there’s nothing like a cocksure and nonchalant melody to offset an over-reliance on bohemian-romantic clichés (hello, “ashtray eyes” and “carpet burns”) and stretch a limited range.
The mid-section lets him down, slumping into the bad habits of his debut solo album. This Must Be Where It Ends peddles vagaries (“Mysteries help me ’cause your hair is like the autumn”) even more befuddling than the extravagantly bewildering Colour of the Night from his solo debut. Tune-wise, The Exiles and I Count the Times refuse to stick after 10 assiduously counted plays, favouring enervating portent over propulsion.
Thankfully, he rallies for the end run. Actors picks up the pace; Thin Men Dancing’s knuckle-dragging riff almost apes Oasis; and Possession swoons with serene prettiness. Abrahams’ backing could be more buff: he tends to leave respectful space for Anderson’s vocals when he should be needling him like Bernard Butler’s guitar used to. Presumably, that’ll be a job for the planned Suede album, for which Black Rainbows acts as an intermittently promising teaser.