Brett Anderson described The Blue Hour as “the best thing we’ve done for nearly a quarter of a century.” He is correct. Here, Suede does not try to reinvent itself in a self-conscious manner; nor does it worship the bones of its past. Rather, it simply gives itself the freedom to make art, and it does that in the most beautiful and unexpected fashion. The Blue Hour glides along with all the passion and power of its 2016 predecessor, Night Thoughts. It is different, though—more graceful; more, well, blue. This is music that you listen to when you have time to care about it; when you want to watch a movie in your mind.
Aesthetically and musically, Suede has always been one of the darker Britpop bands. Think about it: while Oasis is known for the wistful “Wonderwall,” Blur is known for the frenetic “Song 2,” and Supergrass is known for the silly “Alright,” one of Suede’s most successful singles is “Animal Nitrate,” which Anderson said was “about violence and abuse and sex and drugs.” The Blue Hour isn’t exactly brutal in the style of that song; yet it’s definitely tenebrous in its own theatrical way. “As One” opens with the chanting of a choir, giving the impression that everything to follow will be sacred. “Wastelands” closes with a shakily whispered passage from The Wind and the Willows: “The sky was steely. The countryside was bare. Twigs crackled under Mole’s feet. Mole was alone and far from help, and night was closing in.” There’s even a skit—“Dead Bird,” which features a morbid dialogue between a father and son burying an avian corpse over the haunting music of strings. In multiple tracks, the sounds of people shouting and dogs barking can be heard. Written down, all of this might seem over-the-top, but in context, it’s perfect—just what is needed to thrust listeners into the gritty, yet gorgeous world of the album art.
Almost every track on The Blue Hour explores loneliness and the search for human connection. Anderson approaches these themes through poetic anecdotes rather than vague generalizations, so that every song feels like another chapter in a story. In “Mistress,” he describes illicit love in terms that illuminate the sad passion of the situation: “He loves you like words/He needs you like words.” Later, in “The Invisibles,” he speaks about his father and “[leaving his] home at seventeen.” Frequently, he invites the listener to accompany him on Transcendentalist adventures: “Meet me in the wastelands”; “Beyond the outskirts, come with us”; “I’ll take you to the verges by the nettles, by the roundabout.” Suede came of age decades ago, but there’s often a lovely Bildungsroman feel to their music, and that’s especially true here.
Another intriguing Suede trend that resurfaces on this album is the direct-address positivity song. Despite all its dabbling in the shadows, Suede has probably recorded some of the most wholesome, heartwarming songs of any Britpop band (see “Everything Will Flow” and “Instant Sunshine”). This album has two of them: “Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You” and “Life Is Golden.” The former is one of the album’s most powerful tracks; backed by electric guitars, the titular phrase seems like a triumph. The latter is an odd case: it would be overly saccharine performed by plenty of other artists, but given Suede’s sober earnestness throughout the majority of the album, it comes across as a welcome moment of peace and clarity.
The Blue Hour is everything a Suede album should be. It’s dramatic, but never too performative; it tells stories of confusion, but never without catharsis. It’s all the best shades of blue, and it would be a shame if any rock fans missed out on it this fall.