Brett Anderson - Brett Anderson
Bill Cummings 09/04/2007
You have to worry when even Brett Anderson's (former Suede/Tears front man) solo album press release quotes this rather earnest sounding sound bite: “Essentially I have taken a knife to myself and am showing the world my insides.” There's nothing wrong with autobiographical, personal song writing when it's executed well (Dylan, Neil Young, Scott Walker, etc.) but there's a certain kind of over worthy, self absorbed and badly executed category of “solo project” that this album sadly falls into, all too often.
Brett's new songwriting partner Fred Ball seems to have inexplicably reprised the stilted mid paced piano/guitar balladry of “A New Morning”: admittedly adding to that some impressive orchestral flourishes. But these songs lack the punch of mid period Richard Oaks Suede, and the splendid grandeur of his early work with Bernard Butler. Vocally Brett sounds tired: years of vices and touring have clearly taken their toll, he can no longer hit those swooping high notes, and often sings as if his voice box has been padlocked: chopping and cutting his phrasing down to squeeze into each verse.
The lyrics are mainly self parodying, it's a record full of “Brettisms”: urban glamour, and the customary doomed romanticism all show their face, since “Coming Up” Brett has mostly failed to bring depth or insight to this style, instead peddling obvious slogans, and clunky rhyming stanzas. When Suede's patchy Brit Pop comedown album “Head Music” was released, there was a joke doing the rounds about a fictitious “Brett Anderson lyric generator” where you could input certain well worn Suede phrases (Wind, Plastic People, Veins, and The Streets ect) and produce a full lyric, ironically you could imagine most of this album being a series of its results. “One Lazy Morning” starts promisingly enough with some gentle piano notes, before lapsing into a dreadful kind of new age nonsense, while the guitar figures of “Dust and the Rain” rustle in Suede's leftovers bin for ideas and comes up with some laughable metaphors for a relationship. (“I am the dust you are the rain/I am the needle you are the vein.”) While the waltzing anti consumerism: of “The more we possess/The Less We Own Of Ourselves” feels like a forced attempt, to make a wider point about society through a simple characterisation.
Its not all bad though, there are three moments that make you think that Brett Anderson is still occasionally capable of something special. The duel power of the tumbling guitar reverb and Brett's freed up vocal on “Scorpio Rising” is haunting, while the sighing balladry of “A Song For My Father” deals gracefully with the death of his father. But it's opener “Love is Dead” that's the real standout, strutting rhythms are pierced by a grand violin line, above which rather clipped vocals, mediate upon the loneliness of his life, indeed there's one moment of real clarity here as the strings fade, Brett finally fully annunciates a phrase of real haunting beauty (“All the lies that you've given us/Blow like wind in my head”), an all too brief glimpse at what he is capable of.
Brett Anderson obviously appreciates honesty, so I'm going to be brutally so, his first solo album is mostly lacking, it lacks any progression artistically, lyrically is often clumsy, it lacks a real power vocally and lapses into a frightful kind of mature AOR sound, that's all too premature for a man seeking to make a name for himself solo. It so desperately wants to match up to the top pile of CDs marked “Brett's heroes”: Bowie, Morrissey, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, but sadly it's at the bottom of the box along with the recent solo work of Richard Ashcroft. Which is a great shame indeed.