By Matt James 4 October 2011
A first taste of Black Rainbows should ideally be preceded by an imaginary video montage. In this ‘montage du cinema’, a shadowy seer would be seen staggering from a cave. Bleary-eyed with wild hair, shaggy beard and dishevelled long, grey robes, ashened by soot and spiders’ webs. One hand rising to block out the blistering sun. Then, possibly accompanied by “Eye of the Tiger” and, yes, in split-screen, we would see this hirsute warlock trim his trailing beard and electrified mop and trade his dusty gowns for a sharp, tailored black shirt and trousers. Roll away the stone and shazam! The Thin Black Duke appears. Striding boldly across the wintry mountains and down to the water we spot slender ladyfingers, dazzling in black nail varnish, rising from the depths like King Arthur’s lady in the lake. She offers forth the Mysterious Microphone of Immortality! Our newly dapper dandy swipes said singing wand and, with the evocation of musical mythology, smacks it across his hip, sending sparkly signals across the cosmos. Waifs and strays throughout the Kingdom, awaking from golden slumbers, rub their peepers in disbelief. Yes, it’s true, underfed urchins, he has returned…
That’s slightly melodramatic, but Black Rainbows really does feel like the Brett Anderson of olde English folklore is back! Back! BACK! After eons of self exile in the wilderness wooing trees, tickling harps and literally making an album called Wilderness, it would seem Anderson is rising up, back on the streets. It’s as if the Ponder Years drew one conclusion, “Life is too short to be small” so, to echo Dylan, “Play it fucking loud!” If recent obsessions ping-pong’d between misery and forestry, this time it’s fire, Fire, FIRE! These streets are littered with references to carpet burns, matches, embers and funeral pyres. There’s such hot pyromania simmering beneath these 10 tales that Anderson’s spirit feels reignited. It’s both obvious and revealing this was the album he wrote prior to Suede’s reformation.
It begins confident and classy but comparatively calmly. “Unsung” is luxuriously regal pop pitched somewhere between Peter Gabriel’s “Red Rain” and The Blue Nile’s “Headlights on the Parade”. Its swollen-heart rousing with crashing drums and stirring synths. Anderson’s clearly wrestled back his epic, gang-leading “Wild Ones” voice and he’s singing for tramps like us again. “Soar like a love song / Yes, life is your love song unsung”. For those who found his solo work too grouchy and unsociable, get ready to hug it out. “Give me your brittle heart and I’ll light a fire,” beckons recent single, “Brittle Heart”. Chin-up, chest out and onward, it waves the same carrion call-to-arms, the unification of broken puppets to rise and take ‘oh-vah’ as Suede did two decades ago. “All that power and all that passion can be ours tonight” he hollers like some Dickensian Moses. Rarely has someone demanding we throw our most essential organs onto a bonfire sounded so inviting and, well, reasonable.
Anderson’s back in Black but these Chelsea boots were made for walkin’. There’s a positive determination not to be another victim, another cliché. The jangly, sunshine-on-a-rainy-day pop of “Crash About to Happen” is a beach postcard from Suede’s “She’s in Fashion” and cocks two fingers to our bloodthirsty Piranha press: “Why do they only want you when you’re cracking up?” The equally chipper “I Count the Times” could be Anderson shaking his formerly narcotic self from uneasy dreams, “Do I follow where you go? / Still suffering? / I count the times you burnt me.” Whilst this may sound like ‘My mummy wouldn’t buy me a pony’ therapy, it’s more a “Once in a Lifetime”, “How did I get here? Fuck THIS!” moment of clarity. The fact that “Count’s” chorus twinkles like Bowie singing Cyndi Lauper’s wistful “All Through the Night” helps.
From herein, things get feisty. More Black, less Rainbows. The punchy, muscular “The Exiles” (Suede title par excellence) shoots Edge-worthy guitar chops across stormy Dog Man Star skies. “All our horses have been shot / All our aces have been played,” he sings. It broods with the gothic rumble of Suede noir. “I’m still burning!” kicks the Skinny Emperor. “Actors” rocks like a great lost Suede single; urgent, bratty and spitting fire with a buzzsaw riff that faintly recalls the theme from bare knuckle ‘70s cop show The Sweeney. It also marks the first Anderson tune you can technically pogo to. It’s hook “I’m falling, falling” is shiveringly euphoric. Ditto “Thin Man Dancing”, another ultra-Suede glam tart, strutting its sleazy hips through the backstreets. “Are we like shadows? We’ll be like shadows”; it slithers with both a promise and a threat. It’s the gutter scamps from “Metal Mickey” reborn, rising again from the puddles and garbage.
This being a Brett Anderson record, there are still gentler, elegiac pieces. The spiralling, falling glitter of “In the House of Numbers” recalls Cocteau Twins with its rolling bass and flickering mysteries of “Palaces of trees” and “Windows broken from the inside”. Later, the sombre, spooksome finale “Possession” is a martyr’s allegiance to ‘er indoors. “For her I would leap into the flame,” boasts Anderson like a Regency Valentino challenged to a duel. The album peak though, “This Must Be Where It Ends”, flies betwixt the black and the rainbow. He sings, “You cannot stop the rain from falling / Though we try.” To say it’s almost as giddily uplifting as Suede treasures like “By the Sea” is compliment enough. If this is any indication of where Anderson is heading, the new Suede album is gonna be stellar.
Whilst it’s obviously no Dog Man Star, Brett Anderson’s tenth round rings the bell for a local hero with spirit reborn, heart aflame, trash talkin’ and eyeing the prize once more. Even if I’ll swear to thy grave that 2009’s Slow Attack was his true solo knockout, this feels like someone coming home. It’s music tripping on a realisation that life is for living and that thing in your chest ain’t no heartbeat but a countdown. Its grim, ponderous sleeve proves a misnomer. It should have Brett Anderson beaming in a sparkly tracksuit, blowing a whistle whilst giving a thumbs up with one hand and toasting a glass of Moët with the other. Real life has no time for rehearsals.