A New Morning is precisely no Suede fan’s favourite album. Upon release in 2002 it quickly developed a reputation for being lightweight, blasé, dull, same-old same-old, all the derogatory terms magazines like the NME and Q Magazine could pull from the dictionary to describe a band running on fumes.
So why am I bothering to talk about it on A-Side Glance?
Well not so long ago I finished reading Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn, Brett Anderson’s second autobiography where he reminisces about Suede’s heyday; the release of the self-titled album, the fraught and almost fatal sessions of Dog Man Star, the call to action that was Coming Up, the meandering mess of Head Music, and lastly A New Morning. Note how I don’t give the latter any real description. The reason is because in the book, then and now, Brett and co. seemed confused as to what the hell A New Morning was meant to be.
Option one was what the title suggested; a fresh, clean start designed to keep the band going in a more positive, poppy light akin to Coming Up but with less bite. Option two was that it was a waste of time that the band were trying to ensure was not a waste of money – The album took over a year to make and the band went through quite a few producers. Option three was that the album was an unofficial suicide pact; something on the level of This is Hardcore designed to deliberately alienate fans and essentially kill them with kindness.
An intriguing idea admittedly, but obviously with hindsight it did the band no favours. Whatever the case, it’s been 20 years since the album’s release and I want to judge for myself if it’s a mere refreshing change of pace for Suede, or if it really is a gun to the head in the guise of a bouquet of flowers.
Let’s have a listen.
Track #1 – Positivity
Here’s a choice lyric that a lot of people harp on: “Your smile is your credit card/And your currency is your love”. It’s a very piss-poor start, and as a lead single it killed a lot of enthuasiasm for the album stone-dead. So if we are going for option three of the suicide pact then mission accomplished right out of the gate. However, this is just one song. There could be eleven better ones down the line.
Track #2 – Obsessions
Brett’s mentioning credit cards again. Guess this is his new obsession to replace gasoline. Anyway in all seriousness this is a step up, and the use of harmonica harkens back to the classic glam rock sound that Suede would chase in the 90s. Maybe not as punchy as it could have been had this album been produced under Ed Buller, but Stephen Street does an admirable job and I think Brett’s lower-than-usual pitch lends the song a bit of extra bite.
Track #3 – Lonely Girls
Lonely Girls comes across as something Ed Sheeran could and would cover. But despite that, I actually kind of like this one? Not sure why. Maybe it’s the strings, makes the whole thing nice and breezy in the same way as Everything Will Flow.
Track #4 – Lost in TV
This doesn’t sound like Suede. There’s nothing definitively Suede about it, save for Brett’s vocals. It just sounds like another song, the kind of thing you’d hear everyday in the shops. Not a fan of the la la’s in the backing vocals either. It seems unnecessary and adds to the generic poppy feel of the song.
Track #5 – Beautiful Loser
I’ve noticed we’re getting a lot more use out of the acoustic guitar on this album. Here it clashes with the electric guitar to good effect. A common criticism of the album is that Brett’s vocals are a bit strained as the drug use caught up with him and unfortunately this is where it is most obvious. The lyrics are fine but much like how Obsessions was Trash 2.0, this is Beautiful Ones 2.0. The problem with the album so far is that not a lot of it sounds original, and what is original is turgid. I’m hoping things change as we approach the halfway stage.
Track #6 – Streetlife
I’m liking the faster tempo, it makes the song come across as Hi-Fi‘s younger, more hyper brother. A bit one dimensional and doesn’t really build upon itself like Lonely Girls did, but it’s still alright.
Track #7 – Astrogirl
In terms of overall sound, this is my favourite so far. Alex Lee is on keyboards this time around standing in for Neil Codling and this is definitely his finest hour with the piano and strings, adding a bit of majesty to proceedings. However, the lyrics are once again weak to the point of daft. Here’s the second verse in full:
“A strange experience has started
Between her molecules and me
It’s like disease between us forming
From obsolete technology
And it’s calling you
It’s calling me
It’s calling everyone to be”
That means nothing. Those are just words.
Track #8 – Untitled
Catchy title. Brett singing in isolation at the start made me think this was going to be him channelling what David Bowie was doing around this time on Heathen but sadly not. Once again though I find myself liking the sound. Up until this stage of the album I’ve found myself thinking that Suede are just going through the motions, but there’s a bit of extra effort behind this which I can commend.
Track #9 – …Morning
Ok, no word of a lie, I want to set this as my alarm. I know that would never have been Suede’s intention but goddammit it’s gentle and on the nose enough for me to want to wake up to Brett and acoustic guitar.
Yeah, if you can’t tell I’m struggling to take things seriously at this point, it all sounds OK or occasionally decent but frankly it’s all just going straight through one ear and out of the other. There’s nothing memorable.
Track #10 – One Hit to the Body
A proper electric guitar riff! It’s only been 7 tracks since we’ve had one! Side note, if you were to play a drinking game whilst listening to New Morning where you have to take a shot every time Brett says the word ‘sky’, you’d be absolutely shitfaced by this point. I miss credit cards. Anyway, song’s boring, moving on.
Track #11 – When the Rain Falls
Again, boring. But then again so is any rainy day where you’re stuck indoors so I guess this strikes the right tone? Oh I don’t know at this point, let’s just hear the final song.
Track #12 – Oceans
Ok this is more like it, lyrically this is a massive step up. After all the optimism and saccharine romanticism of the preceding songs, we get a song with the narrator acknowledging that there are oceans between himself and his partner. It’s all falling apart but it’s too late to really do anything about it. Stephen Street’s production has been a bit lax since Obsessions but here there’s a few extra background noises that elevate the song; the familiar grey sounds of life on the radio and the telly.
Right, I’m finally enjoying A New Morning, let’s have some more…oh wait. That’s it.
It can certainly be said that this is a Suede album like no other. It’s sounds light and lives up to the title of sounding like a new morning for the band, seemingly invigorated and eager to take on the 21st century. Plus, you will never hear as much acoustic guitar on a Suede album as you will here.
Unfortunately, it’s not one that would win over any regular fans of the band due to how much of a departure it is from the days of the anthems for the outcasts or the brutal recounts of nitrate-fuelled domestics. Nor is it going to win any newcomers because of how boring it is. If you were to introduce someone to the band with this album, chances are they aren’t coming back for seconds.
On that note I’d like to bring up the front cover because…God I hate it, it’s shit. How are you meant to catch the eyes of the public, how can you go from the striking artwork of Dog Man Star and Head Music to a disc and a splodge of pink?
Here’s a quote from Brett’s book that sums it up:
“Whereas previously we had created record covers that triggered our looming, polar themes of sensuality and sadness, the sleeve to A New Morning was soulless and blank and oddly corporate, bereft of any real personality of human content, perhaps a strangely appropriate reflection of the majority of the songs it clothed” – Brett Anderson, Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn, 2019
Suede had well and truly lost their way by this point in their careers. After Head Music, they had a choice: to go back to the classic sound of their 90s output, or lean further into that album’s tone in an attempt to remain relevant. Drug-free, they were never going to achieve the former. And if they truly did have option three in mind, then doing the latter would be the quickest way to self-immolate. This is an album that sounds like it was only made for the sake of it, by a band who were exhausted and wanted to get out of their record deal, not a band wishing to make a fresh start.
A New Morning was a flop, and rightly so. Apart from Obsessions and Oceans, there’s nothing of value to those except for the most dedicated Suede fan. The following year’s breakup was inevitable. And I’m so glad better was to come in the 2010’s, because what a sad end this could have been.