For his second album, Friends & Lovers, Bernard Butler trimmed away the folkier elements of his debut -- ironically, those were highlights on People Move On - returning to the sweeping, glam-inflected pop-rock that provided the impetus for Suede. He may have a grander vision and a larger palette, yet he has greater focus this time. Friends & Lovers opens majestically with its title track, surging forward with an anthemic, post-Bowie chorus and subdued psychedelic strings. Butler uses this template throughout the record, delivering songs that blend late-'60s and -'70s rock conventions and clichés in unpredictable ways, never once resorting to irony or pastiche. Butler is a craftsman, laboring on the structure of his songs, the flow of the arrangement, and the sonic texture of the production, resulting in an abundance of great guitar playing and some wonderful harmonies and keyboards, all woven together in a stylish, seamless sonic tapestry. This technique may be sonically resplendent, but it's not without pitfalls. Each track has dazzling moments, yet few stand apart from the pack, largely because, as a frontman, Butler doesn't sell them. His thin voice tends to fade into the mix, becoming part of the wall of sound; consequently, Friends & Lovers gracefully rolls in, then washes away without leaving a lasting impression. This may sound churlish, but this music is crying out for a larger-than-life personality, a vocalist on the level of Brett Anderson. Friends & Lovers must be enjoyed as the work of a meticulous, talented, craftsman, a musician who loves to slowly build his record, track by track, and there's a lot to enjoy on that level, even if it leaves you with a nagging feeling that it could have been something more.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine