Barely a year since his debut solo album, and Brett Anderson, once the vaudeville voice of the now terminally uncool Suede, despite the fact that they were hyped and hyperboled far beyond their immense talent then rubbished for the exact same characteristics - returns with a new record. "Wilderness", his eighth album, is neither a shocking revelation, nor a clunker of artistic irrelevance : it's another strong slice of Brett Noir, certainly.
If this record is a film, it's a 40's romantic spy thriller set in post-war Berlin : the album takes its cue from Anderson's recent set of acoustic shows from last year. The thrilling reinventions of those nights, casting epic guitar squalls such as the 10-minute "Asphalt World" into a succinct, beautiful candlelight heartbreakers, turned Brett's body of work inside out : as if the guitar and the clattering, glam-rock machine rhythms were some brave face, an escapist front to deflect the heartbreak at the core of the experience. This album is, to those unfamiliar with the shows, a brave new gesture from Anderson. He eschews the well know band-format of his previous work, relying on a smoky palette of guitar, piano and epic strings that casts the work into music designed solely to be listened to in low-lit rooms, in desolute commutes, in moments of exhausted reflection. The familiar traits are here, Andersons distinctive vocabulary, his unique phrase and imagery soaks this record in sorrow, and the soaring voice recasts Anderson as a singular vision : a modern day Marc Almond, or perhaps more accurately, a contemporary Leonard Cohen or Scott Walker, casting out tales of woe and betrayal.
Unlike the husky voiced Cohen, or the emotional acting of a dozen lesser artists that make their forte merely doing slow miserable versions of old hits thinking it adds gravitas to their pity, "Wilderness" is a short, direct statement of versimilitude. At a mere 35 minutes, it's easily Anderson's shortest, and most intimate record. And whilst Anderson himself betrays that, at 40, he appears to finally be settling into the most stable and contented he's yet been personally (on "Blessed"), it's the retakes of former single "Back To You" and the b-side "Clowns" that are most familiar. "Back To You" (now recast as a duet) is probably the best thing he's done in the past decade, and here it's a skeletal husk, a near admission that these things that must happen for him to return to his former love will never occur : a list of ever more incredible things, like planets dying, and hell freezing over, before he'll ever come back to you. Other songs such as "Empress" fall, regrettably into the lyrical shorthand that is Anderson on autopilot, a list of "she is this, she is that, we are the pigs, she is the old hat" that detracts only because of familiarity. That said, by any standard, "Wilderness" is a brave record, a new start, a fresh direction for Anderson to explore as he carves out a unique territory of music and makes it his own.
Like all great artists, Anderson takes his strengths, and uses them to explore new avenues, new worlds, new places. Like any great artist, Anderson is still searching, and for that alone - despite this short records considerable power and the strength of the material and song writing within - he is to be commended.