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Bloodsports is the sixth studio album by Suede. After several years away you could be forgiven for expecting an underwhelming, ludicrously belated and unnecessary attempt to recapture past glories. Their last couple of albums were patchy affairs to say the least and strongly suggested it was time for the increasingly out of fashion Suede to permanently retire to a crumbling gothic mansion and read JG Ballard novels with the curtains drawn tight against the sun. Bloodsports is a surprising return to form though and pitched somewhere in between Coming Up and Dog Man Star. You can tell that Suede have their mojo back from the cover art alone. Much care seems to have gone into every aspect of this record and if it does turn out to be a late twilight swansong then it's not a bad place to end at all. Suede are one of the more unappreciated groups in the modern history of British popular music I think and their up and down story is always interesting to read about. They unwittingly invented Britpop (the very English Suede were a reaction against American grunge) but then had to endure the indignity of lesser talents like Blur, Pulp, and Oasis barging in and taking all the headlines. Their sprawlingly epic second album Dog Man Star was supposed to be their magnum opus (and in the eyes of many it is) but was overshadowed by their brilliant guitarist Bernard Butler leaving the group in a huff during the recording process. One could make a strong case for the Bernard Butler incarnation of Suede still remaining the best British group since The Smiths. The Suede b-sides alone during the Butler era (which can be found on disc one of their Sci-Fi Lullabies compilation) are better than most singles put out by anyone else. While Suede were never quite the same without Butler they did make a great album without him in Coming Up and it finally has a worthy successor with Bloodsports. I think if you study the history of Suede you see that they work best when they are outsiders and have something to prove. With Bloodsports, Suede have something to prove again and their low rent sense of glamour is still enjoyably evident. They can still see star constellations in those muddy coffee granules.
The first song on Bloodsports is called Barriers. It begins in somewhat alarming fashion because it sounds like U2 at first, which obviously isn't good, but initial reservations are soon cast into the nuclear skies (as Brett Anderson would have once sang in his younger more pretentious years) and the song becomes very Suede. Anderson's vocals are the sort of arch gothic he essayed on Dog Man Star (there is one line where he sounds almost exactly like he did on Still Life) and when the chorus kicks in Richard Oakes even manages to conjure a guitar riff that sounds like Bernard Butler is back. The vocals and guitars are a great throwback to the early albums at times and a pleasant indication that Suede are Suede again. None of the electronic nonsense that blighted Head Music or any of the strangely bland pop of A New Morning. This album is more linear than the last couple of Suede records and also less pretentious. Barriers is also the first indication that Anderson's short lived reunion with Bernard Butler as The Tears (the excellent "Here Come the Tears" is sort of like the original line up third Suede album that never was in a sense) is also an influence on Bloodsports. There are a couple of songs here that sound very much like the material Anderson and Butler wrote together for The Tears. Snowblind is next and a straight ahead rabble rousing pop song that sounds like a cross between Starcrazy and Together and could easily slot into Suede's enjoyable Coming Up album. I think that is the best thing about Bloodsports. It makes no concession to the passage of time and abandons that torturous sense of experimentation that you got on the last couple of Suede albums before they got bored and threw the towel in to dwindling sales and apathy. This album could have been made at almost any point in their career.
While the Suede landscape lyrics have been toned down (I didn't detect any gratuitous references to gasoline or picnics by the motorway) they are still very Suede-esque in that borderline daft sort of way. "The rumours burn like roman candles, In the broken lights." Snowblind has a great wall of guitar sound here by Richard Oakes. He definitely seems to be much more accomplished here than he was on the previous three Suede albums. The flow and pacing of the songs feels much better here than it was on the last two albums too. Then it was starting to sound like hard work being Suede and writing Suede songs but there is a relaxed almost effortless sheen to the songs here. It Starts and Ends with You (a very Suede title I title) is next and again sounds very much like one of those songs Anderson and Butler wrote for The Tears. This is a big uplifting pop anthem and really good. This album definitely benefits from sticking to Coming Up's blueprint of precise guitar pop with a few weepies thrown in at the end. Anderson's lyrics go a bit wobbly here though. "Like a cause without a martyr, Like an effigy of balsa, Like a hairline crack in a radiator, Leaking life." Hmmn. Sabotage is more low-slung and gently builds into a mildly orchestrated cloud of melodrama with Brett Anderson's Marmite vocals making you feel like you've been mugged by Kenneth Williams. It sounds like one of the b-sides from the poorer half of their Sci-Fi Lullabies flipside double album. It's ok but nothing here really grabs the listener too much and it maybe outstays its welcome a trifle by the end. The guitars sound a bit dated at first but become more complex and intricate as the song progresses. Not really my favourite thing here but this could possibly be a grower with more listens. I like the line "Her touch is like a raven's shadow" though. That's so Suede.
For the Strangers is Suede back to their best and could easily have been from their first incarnation with Bernard Butler. I love the languid vocals and guitars on this and the Suede outsider theme, the litter on the breeze if you will, is perfectly encapsulated here. It feels like a vague attempt to make a new version of a brilliant early Suede song called To the Birds and while it doesn't have the complex melodrama that Bernard Butler brought to the table with his guitar it's still very good and Richard Oakes continues to impress here with his contributions to the music. I think if you listen to the last couple of albums it's clear they seemed to have lost this precise shorthand way of writing songs but this is great. "Lips like semaphore to my heart, We slither and slide and slip, Stings like aerosol in my eyes, And nothing compares to this." One other important factor to consider is that keyboardist Neil Codling (who joined Suede for Coming Up and left before A New Morning) is now back and so Bloodsports has a three pronged team in Anderson, Codling and Oakes writing the songs. It gives them more strings to their bow and makes the music stronger. Hit Me is Suede in irresistible pop mood with a chorus that is like being injected with a can of Fanta that has been shaken to within an inch of its orange life. Sounds like a mash up of Metal Mickey, She, Beautiful Ones and Can't Get Enough. I love the chorus here and the swooning guitar sound captures past glories but doesn't let them float away in fleeting fashion. "Come on and hit me, With your majesty, Come on and hit me, With all your mystery." There are even some la la's by Anderson to complete the Coming Up aura. Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away is next and floaty and beautiful. Not a million miles away from Everything Must Flow, which was one of the brighter spots from Head Music.
What Are You Not Telling Me? is a big weepie ballad with keyboard chimes to accompany the weary restrained vocal by Brett Anderson. This is reminiscent of a b-side called Another No One but only not as good. It's rather short and sruggles to register before it ends. Always is next and the longest song on the album. It's a claustrophobic heartfelt one with fuzzy guitars. Astral darkness. You wouldn't have thought that in 2026 with Bernard Butler long since retired from the music industry and running a small pet shop in Huddersfield that Suede would still be able to have a crack at The Asphalt World part II but not only do they try they actually succeed. "I will always be near, like﻿ a sniper in the wings," sings Brett Anderson. Great stuff. Faultlines is a rambling gothic ballad to end the album. Very Dog Man Star. The subdued music is very atmospheric and Anderson's almost spoken vocal manages to be affecting and moving as the song progresses and it grows on you more. Overall, Bloodsports is better than anyone really had a right to expect from Suede at this stage in their storied history. Save them a cloud in British guitar pop heaven. At the time of writing you can buy Bloodsports for about seven pounds.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 It Starts and Ends With You
5 For the Strangers
6 Hit Me
7 Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away
8 What Are You Not Telling Me?