Few rock & roll breakups have been as plain nasty as Bernard Butler leaving Suede during the final stages of recording their second album, Dog Man Star, in 1994. The guitarist departed abruptly, leaving Butler's co-songwriter, vocalist Brett Anderson, to finish the epic sophomore effort; Anderson was even forced to lay down guitar parts Butler left unrecorded. The bad blood flowed throughout the pages of NME and Melody Maker, with Anderson hiring youthful Butler look-alike Richard Oakes as his replacement guitarist right before the gothic, grandiose epic did a commercial swan dive during the height of hedonistic Britpop. Anderson picked up the pieces by doing a deliberate 180 from Dog Man Star with 1997's Coming Up, a trashy, fizzy piece of neo-glam that brought Suede to the top of the charts, just after Butler's project with neo-soul vocalist David McAlmont imploded and just before the guitarist launched a solo career comprised of two densely indulgent albums. As Butler was pursuing his whims, Anderson kept Suede churning out explicit sequels to Coming Up before the band collapsed in a tired heap of addiction and fatigue after the release of 2002's New Morning. That album appeared a month after Butler's good but roundly ignored reunion with McAlmont, meaning that by the end of 2002, both men were free to pursue new projects -- or revive old alliances as the case may be, since Anderson and Butler buried the hatchet in 2004 and formed a new band, the Tears, releasing its debut album, Here Come the Tears, in the summer of 2005.
There's nothing shocking about Here Come the Tears, apart from the fact that it's the rare reunion album that truly does complete some unfinished business. Instead of delving back into the doomed darkness of Dog Man Star, Anderson and Butler go about the process of creating a proper sequel to that underappreciated masterpiece. Consequently, Here Come the Tears is what Coming Up would have been if Butler had stuck around: it's cinematic and bright, lush and passionate, halfway between the incessantly catchy pop that wound up on Coming Up and the sighing romanticism and larger-than-life sweep of Dog Man Star. It easily could been released in 1997, where it would have been as big a hit as Coming Up, but in 2005, the album sounds sweetly out of time, particularly because age has tempered Anderson's lyrical excesses and given his tales of tragic lovers, disconnection, alienation, and yearning a real sense of poignancy. Similarly, Butler either doesn't have the inclination -- or Anderson has discouraged his bandmate's tendency -- to layer overdubs until his music collapses under its own weight on Here Come the Tears. His production and arrangements crest and peak at precisely the right moments, lending gravity and grace to Anderson's words. It's easy to listen to the album and just coast along on the elegance of its sound, which is a pleasure in and of itself, yet this album isn't just about the surface. Anderson and Butler also reinvigorate each other as composers, and they come up with 13 strong songs here, ranging from such surging anthems as "Refugees," "Two Creatures," and "Lovers" to brooding ballads like "The Ghost of You" and "A Love as Strong as Death" to slow, churning minor-key rockers as "Brave New Century." All of these songs have familiar antecedents in the Suede catalog, but they don't feel recycled: they feel like a continuation of the duo's best work. And while Here Come the Tears does lack the vibrancy of the era-defining Suede and the majesty of Dog Man Star, it does stand proudly next to those two albums as a terrific pop record. It's so good and assured that it confirms the suspicion that Anderson and Butler were destined to be collaborators. They bring out the best in each other and, with any luck, there won't be another 11-year wait for their next album of new material. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine