THE LOOK: MR BRETT ANDERSON
Words by Mr Dan Cairns
In all these years of sitting down to chew the fat with pop stars, I have never met one quite as sartorially elegant as Mr Anderson. That’s not to say he’s a flash Harry when it comes to selecting his wardrobe. Today, the Suede front man and one-time dedicated hedonist, who in the band’s Britpop-begetting heyday would take to the stage in hipsters and a see-through blouse, is sporting an understated – though almost certainly high-end – black shirt and designer jeans. Far from being foppish and effete, as those early heroin-chic Suede photographs and videos had led me to expect, Mr Anderson in person is tall, tanned, well-built, unselfconsciously masculine and unmistakably groomed. Who knew?
“Looking back on my career, lots of people distrusted the band, and especially me. I definitely regret that”
The 44-year-old is here to talk about his new solo album, Black Rainbows, which sees the singer return to the sphere of rock for the first time since his brief 2004 reunion with Suede’s first guitarist Mr Bernard Butler, as The Tears. Gone are the instrumentally Spartan and lyrically questioning ruminations of Mr Anderson’s two previous releases, Wilderness and Slow Attack. Working with Mr Leo Abrahams, he has returned to the sounds and subject matter that first fired his imagination, and captivated fans, when Suede exploded on to the front pages of the music press in 1992, louche, androgynous and feral. One of the best – and most underrated – lyricists of his generation, he scatters fresh gems across the new album, singing of people with “ashtray eyes” and “carpet burns”, his Mr Patrick Hamiltonesque skill for shining a light on the seedy underbelly of disappointed lives as sharp as ever.
Combine Black Rainbows‘ brilliance with last year’s thrilling and rapturously received Suede reunion shows and it isn’t surprising to find Mr Anderson in such good spirits, chatting over a slice of Bakewell tart and a cup of tea. Gone is the slightly hangdog demeanour of recent years; today, he’s beaming. “Looking back on my career,” Mr Anderson says, hindsight bestowing its benefits, “the one thing I have regrets about is that I messed around with the media a bit, and did prance about for the cameras, all those kinds of things – which were fun, and very much part of the whole hype maelstrom about Suede at the time. But lots of people distrusted the band, and especially me, as a consequence, and that did drag attention away from the music. So I definitely regret that. But, you know, what can you do? You’re 24, last week you signed off the dole, and you’re in a studio in the East End having your photo taken for a magazine cover. And that’s kind of fun. You really do think, ‘Thank f*** for that – this is a more interesting life than the past three years, scraping money together for cat food’.”
The singer admits that, until last year, he had spent many years refusing to engage with his musical past – rather as, before Black Rainbows relit the fire, he had resisted rock music. The reissue of Suede’s back catalogue last year and the band’s comeback shows forced him to confront it, however. “I’ve always had this thing,” he continues, “of ‘Never look back, always move forwards’.” Does he feel as if he’s competing against his past? “Oh, definitely. But lots of people, if they’ve made great work, they’re always in its shadow, aren’t they? For me, it’s [the second Suede album] Dog Man Star. My fanbase is always comparing everything I do with that record. And that can become tiring – until the moment when you think, ‘Yeah, Dog Man Star is a great album. What can I do about it?’ I mean, I can imagine being oppressed by the past in that way, but at least you have made something great, and can use that as a positive. If you’ve never made something that casts that shadow, surely that’s more worrying.”
“I was very lippy and out there in the early days, but I’m not embarrassed about it; it’s very much part of me”
Mr Anderson says he has much more perspective now – and affection, even compassion, for his younger self. “I was very lippy and very out there in the early days, but I’m not embarrassed about it; it’s very much part of me, and I quite respect it in a funny sort of way. I mean, I don’t want to act like that any more, because I have more confidence in myself, in the different sides of myself; but I still respect the fact that I had the guts to do something that stuck out.”
He admits he finds the homogenisation of today’s alternative music trying, and blames what he calls “the shuffle culture, which has reduced tribalism”. “You can listen to a whole host of eclectic music, and that’s wonderful in a way, because it means that lots of new bands are boundless in the way they will pilfer from multiple genres. But there was something to be said for being at school and getting beaten up because you liked punk music. That sort of thing gave a real frisson to being a music fan, and gave you a personal badge of identity.”
In their prime, Suede’s music was sleazy and dangerous – to the point where you could almost smell it. The best moments on Black Rainbows exude the same sense of ambiguity and menace. “That, for me, is what great music is,” says Mr Anderson, finishing his cup of tea. “It’s about personality rather than proficiency, that feeling that you’ve got something of the writer left behind when they’ve left the room.” And with that he is off. Gone, maybe – but a trace of Mr Brett Anderson still lingers.