There’s a proud mini-tradition of ‘split albums’ in pop – records of uncommon emotional rawness, barely disguised venom and one-upmanship that would almost certainly not have been so fresh if the players involved didn’t hate each other. One of them is ‘Dog Man Star’ by Suede (blimey, time to mention them already?) and you can add the likes of ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’, ‘The Libertines’ and, if you’re feeling adventurous, Abba’s incredibly bleak ‘The Visitors’ to the list.
So Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler can claim to have added to this intriguing little branch of the mighty pop oak. But will they be able to boast of a great reconciliation album, too? To the naked eye, the reconciliation album should be an easier thing to assemble, but making up offers a fraction of the inspiration of breaking up, only the trepidation and creative democracy that is the very enemy of great pop. All players walking on eggshells, nobody willing to tell anyone else that, actually, that bassline they just laid down is shite.
Which is why it’s good news that Brett and Bernard still have old wounds way too deep to heal over a few mutually agreeable chord progressions. Thus the scene seems set for ‘Here Come The Tears’ to become a kind of Son Of Dog Man Star (‘Puppy Man Star’?) – more pain, more gain.
And so it proves. ‘Here Come…’ is a painful album, with so much explicit lyrical reference to the how-much-it-hurts-ness of love, but there are also no songs on it that are less than wonderful. It’s almost like the pair are using the album to say the things that just won’t come out right in The Good Mixer of a Friday afternoon, and as such it is raw, emotionally stirring, and the best album you’ll hear this year, by a mile.
Opener, single ‘Refugees’, with a fairly explicit lyrical AB scheme and lines like “our love is our saviour” and “don’t say there’s nothing between us”. We all know who Brett could be talking about. But it is a beautiful album which is so dripping with elegant sadness, lyrical poignancy and axe heroism that the listener’s only option is to sit back and be drenched. The track of the album – of any album – is ‘The Ghost Of You’, a rabbit-punch to the solar plexus of heartbreak, tallying up a roll-call of the minutiae of what it is to be left by a loved one, all the actions shopping-listed with shattering mundanity and nobility by Brett – “I threw out the photographs/Like yesterday’s flowers”. Anyone looking for eye-drying time is best to avoid the weepy, drunk-alone-in-the-afternoon lament of ‘Co-Star’. “Alone in my room/I switch on the tube/And wave at the screen”, sighs Brett… and once again, you know where his meaningful glance was directed when he laid down that line.
If it was all explicitly split-reconcile-split-reconcile, ‘Here Come The Tears’ would be too heavy to wade through. But whereas ‘The Libertines’ was an endless autopsy of Pete and Carl’s friendship, Brett and Bernard know to leave well alone for half the record and concentrate on simple, beautiful tunes. ‘Imperfection’ is gigantic, a sonic cousin of Butler’s ‘Yes’, while ‘Brave New Century’ sees Brett making the most of his guitar hero spotlight song, plunging and soaring, strings rising from beneath like an angry, oceanic swell.
But there are no bad songs on here. In fact, the only criticism you can level at ‘Here Come…’ is that it is too much, an embarrassment of riches, a grande bouffe of drama, beauty and romance. And if that’s all you have to be criticised, well, then you’ll be OK. You hear that, Bernard, Brett? YOU’LL BE OK.