Brett Anderson

Brett Anderson

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It's too easy to carp that Brett Anderson is no longer the gothic romantic that he was when he led Suede, a band legendary for its decadent theatricality, thrift-shop glam, and dark sexuality. Age changes a person, and it's mellowed Anderson -- and, frankly, after years of toxic indulgence and sorrows, he deserves to settle down at least a little bit. And even if his long-promised solo debut -- arriving a couple years after the long-anticipated reunion with Bernard Butler, the Tears -- is clean and precise in ways that Suede never was, this is undoubtedly connected in its heart and groin to the Anderson who spent the '90s celebrating trash floating on the breeze and all kinds of nuclear debris. After all, no matter how subdued this ballad-heavy album is, Anderson still relies on his endearingly tattered book of breathless rhymes, and there's a familiar cinematic quality to much of this music, along with some diversions into boot-stomping glam. The only thing is, this cinematic pop isn't widescreen, it's fit for the cozy confines of home, while the stomping is sedate -- developments that may dismay those hoping for a replication of Dog Man Star or the fizzy thrills of Coming Up, but this introspective, meticulously mature collection is as accurate a reflection of where the sober Anderson is now as those records captured him at his peak of excess. Quiet as Brett Anderson may be, underneath its smooth, shimmering surface Anderson's fire has not faded, as the anger that propels the baroque "The More We Possess the Less We Own of Ourselves" proves, but what truly distinguishes this album is its disarming sincerity. All through Suede, and even through the Tears, Anderson disguised his emotions in exaggerated rhymes, which gave his music a grandiose, even mythical quality, but here he plays it entirely straight, whether he's aching for some "Intimacy" or paying tribute to his deceased parent in the heartbreaking yet comforting "Song for My Father." This unadorned honesty is married to a production that may be a shade too clean and crisp, but the album never feels as unctuous as an indie yuppie celebrating good taste for the sake of good taste; the polish is appropriate for an Anderson who matured but has yet to settle down. If it's hard not to wish there was a little bit more grit, it's also easy to realize that, like many of his albums in the past decade, Brett Anderson is not perfect, but it's appealing partially because of its flaws. Sometimes he tries too hard, sometimes the words fall flat, sometimes the music doesn't quite equal its ambition, but that's been the case since Head Music. What makes Brett Anderson succeed as solo debut is that it truly presents Anderson on his own, willing to sound different, quieter than he did when in a band, willing to open his heart without regard for consequences. At times, the album doesn't quite gel, but when it works, it has a sense of elegiac grace uncommon to any of his peers.

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