Suede were always one of the more interesting bands from the Britpop era. Their dark lyrical themes and sometimes florid music meant they little in common with the likes of Oasis or Blur.
They had an unusual career trajectory; guitarist Bernard Butler, whose playing defined their early sound, left the band after the recording of their second album “Dog Man Star”. Though they replaced him and carried on, much of the magic was lost. After three more disappointing albums, they split, making them one of the few bands for whom their second album was the best. A decade later they were to reform, older and wiser, and appeared to pick up not from where they left off, but from where they perhaps should have gone after “Dog Man Star”.
“Night thoughts” is their second album since they reformed, following on for 2013′s “Bloodsports”. It’s a concept album with a storyline of the drowning man’s life flashing past his eyes, which is admittedly a bit old hat; Spock’s Beard and Mostly Autumn are just two bands to have covered similar themes. But in theme and mood Night Thoughts is closest to Marillion’s 1994 classic “Brave”.
The guitar drones heralding opener “When You Are Young” so closely recalls Brave’s “The Bridge” it’s hard to imagine it’s not a deliberate quote, and the same song’s cinematic string section strengthens the prog flavour. What follows is a mix of anthemic guitar-pop numbers with big choruses interspersed with darker and more atmospheric numbers that sometimes evoke the bleakness of the middle parts of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.
The pairing of “Pale Snow” and “I Don’t Know How To Reach You” are early highlights, the spiralling guitar on the latter sees Richard Osman channelling the late Mick Ronson. But every song has something to recommend about it, and like the best concept albums it’s more than the sum of its parts. The mid-70s Bowie vibe that’s been present throughout their career is still prominent, but there are also moments that would not have sounded out of place on a mid-90s Marillion album.
For a band who so often wore the influence of David Bowie on their sleeves, it was ironic that Bowie’s death rather overshadowed this album’s release. While it doesn’t quite reach the florid grandeur of “Dog Man Star”, this record is still streets ahead of the weaker albums that followed it. It’s a rich and dense record that gets stronger on repeated listens, and while it’s not really a progressive rock album as such, it does share some of the same strengths.