A round-up of some more positive Black Rainbows reviews!
Brett Anderson, by all accounts, has been through a lot. For a man in his early 40s he has already endured a crippling drug addiction, the break up and reconciliation with forming sparring partner Bernard Butler, and over 20 years in the public eye. With this in mind the recording and release of a fourth solo album, ‘Black Rainbows’, must seem like a walk in the park for the idiosyncratic 43 year-old.
Brooding album opener ‘Unsung’, begins seemingly as a slow burner tinged withcharacteristic melancholy (“those impossible clouds are gathering now”), before the sweeping melody of the chorus transforms it into a ballad of the bleakest nature. The mood recalls ‘Now My Heart is Full’, the opener from Morrissey’s landmark solo release ‘Vauxhall and I’.
‘Brittle Heart’ demonstrates Anderson’s trademark tortured romanticism and beautifully ambiguous lyrics, as he pleads “give me your brittle heart and your ashtray eyes” but despite this it’s one of ‘Black Rainbow’’s more accessible moments and acts as highlight of the record’s first half whilst containing some of the finest lyrics Anderson has written in years: “I’ll make a an effigy from a lock of your hair, and all the cinders and ashes can be ours to share” he pines.
The drive time radio friendly jangle pop of ‘Crash About To Happen’ follows before ‘I Count the Times’ and ‘The Exiles’ sees Anderson write the sort of dark brooding rock anthems that Editors and White Lies could but dream of creating.
Anderson’s gift for wrapping melodies around the most abstruse of lyrics and sparsest musical arrangements is no more evident than on the gorgeous “This Must Be Where It Ends”. Anderson cries out for help to a “mistress” before the track’s epic production builds to a colossal crescendo which is all strings, tortured vocal and grandiose production.
It is perhaps only Actors which fails reach the heights of the rest of the album, with it’s almost “Suede-by-numbers” feel due to the industrial, abrasive guitar backing but struggles under the awkwardness of its patchwork composition.
The shimmering guitar chords of In The House Of Numbers bleeds into penultimate track Thin Men Dancing which recalls mid-period Bowie with its confident swagger and pompous stomp. Perhaps the title is a direct reference to the Thin White Duke, who knows?
Anderson yearns on ‘Black Rainbows’ closing track, ‘Possession’, about the “weakness I feel when I hear her name” and herein lies an indication as to the best way to sum up what is an album defined by its heartbreaking beauty. Beneath it all; the addiction, the high profile fall outs and shape shifting 20 year career, Black Rainbows proves that Anderson is still both a lyricist of uncompromising quality and a hopeless romantic. What’s more he’s all the better for it.
The Arts Desk:
I never really dug Suede. I could hear great pop songwriting in some of their work, but their rampant adoption of Bowie-as-Ziggy-Stardust sonics and vocal tics seemed to be just as representative of Britpop’s necrophiliac tendencies as did Oasis’s tired Beatle-isms. So I’m slightly puzzled as to why I’m enjoying this record by their singer as much as I am, given that it is almost as retro – albeit in a different way.
The soundscape of Black Rainbows is a return to rock after the orchestral stylings of previous solo records, but it belongs to the mid-1980s. In particular there is a Goth jangle to the guitars that recalls The Cult, Siouxie & The Banshees and Anderson’s fellow Ziggy obsessives Bauhaus. The Smiths’ wiry grooves are there, too, and the occasionally narcotic grit of pre-Loveless My Bloody Valentine. You can even, for all Anderson’s studied archness, hear the most gauche reach-for-the-stars romanticism of The Waterboys and early U2 in the self-abasing love song “Brittle Heart”.
Maybe it’s because there’s a wider spread of influences, maybe it’s because in amongst all this, Anderson’s voice is now really his own. Maybe it’s just that age suits him and it feels like he’s no longer trying overly hard to be a rock god while simultaneously undermining himself with that archness. Whatever, this is an easy record to get swept up in, the sound of a bruised romantic seemingly learning to be comfortable in his own skin. Sometimes it even suggests the shameless grandiosity that Coldplay could achieve if they weren’t so cripplingly wet. As good an argument for middle age as I’ve heard in a while.
The art of the male solo album – especially if you’re in/were in a respected band – can be difficult to get right. You only have to look at Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley orMagazine’s Howard Devoto to see how solo work can disappear without trace, destined to be curios for diehard fans. In recent times the same can be levelled at all of The Strokes, and The Libertines’ Pete Doherty and Carl Barat. In fact, arguably the only artists to have made it work are Richard Hawley (and let’s be honest, how many people buying Hawley’s records conceivably rememberThe Longpigs?) and Jarvis Cocker (who’s somehow managed to adopt the role of music’s equivalent of Stephen Fry in the national treasure stakes).
It’s a ring into which Brett Anderson feels the need to throw his hat occasionally. Although he already has an enviable back catalogue with assorted incarnations of his band (as shown by the successes of the Suede reissues and reunion shows), Black Rainbows is his fourth solo outing. Does he really have anything left to prove?
Unsung sets the tone with an enviable sense of ease. Big, bold and confident, on it Anderson croons “life is your love song, unsung” while strings sweep and swell, giving the song an undeniably impressive, effortless grace. Lead single Brittle Heart meanwhile manages to join the dots between Head Music-era Suede singles such She’s In Fashion and Everything Will Flow and Elbow’s One Day Like Today. As with Unsung, it demonstrates that Anderson remains confident in his continued abilities as a songwriter. A strong opening trio is completed via the instant and accessible Crash About To Happen.
But it’s here that the record starts to fall over somewhat. While it’s easy (or lazy) to draw comparisons to Anderson’s former glories, there are times when the album doesn’t help itself. Ignoring track I Count The Times – which appears to have half-inched its chorus straight from All Saints’ Pure Shores – any of The Exiles, Actors, or Thin Men Dancing could’ve been lifted off a late-period Suede record. That said, that’s not always a bad thing – Actor sounds like the galloping lost single, at once familiar and new.
There are still some gems to come though, aside from the opening trio. The percussive, melodic House Of Numbers and plaintive, beautific and haunting album closer Possession demonstrate that Anderson still has a knack of pulling a genuinely mesmerising composition out of the hat at a moment’s notice.
This album was a risk that Anderson didn’t need to take, so the question remains if he’s succeeded where others have failed. It at least leaves more questions than answers. Will it generate mainstream appeal for Anderson or will it remain a curio for die-hard Suede fans? Does he have it in him to make another solo record? On the basis of Black Rainbows it’s hard to say. While a good half of the album demonstrates a genuine songwriting nous, other elements hint at a mere rehashing of old Suede ideas. More’s the pity, as the opening three tracks alone are worth the price of admission and deserve widespread recognition, and when the album’s firing on all cylinders it’s a joy to behold. It has to be said, however, that it’s hard to see the release as a whole do much more than emulate Albert Hammond Jr’s solo endeavours, for this is pleasant yet inessential stuff.