What are the odds that the group that revived glam-rock in the early '90s—at the height of grunge's earnest stranglehold on music—would still be around to make vital music at the decade's end? Whatever they may be, the band formerly known as Suede has bucked them again, if a bit less decisively, on Head Music, its fourth album if you don't count the B-sides collection Sci-Fi Lullabies. On the other hand, maybe that record should be counted; that Suede could make two discs worth of castaways sound as satisfying as any of its albums indicates an almost freakish talent. Of course, one reason for the material's consistency may also be Suede's tendency to rely on fairly reliable formulas: Lead singer and songwriter Brett Anderson's songs generally pair lyrics from the familiar sex/drugs/glamour/crumbling-relationships axis with snaky, guitar-driven melodies that could easily be emanating from an amp with a T. Rex sticker on the side. Following up what might have been the apotheosis of that approach, the U.K.-hit-laden Coming Up, Head Music, perhaps owing to the presence of Happy Mondays producer Steve Osborne, finds Anderson and his bandmates refining that formula a bit, although hardly radically. The synthesizer on "Asbestos" wouldn't sound out of place on The Chronic—or, for that matter, on a Spice Girls album—while the rhythm track of "Savoir Faire" is probably as funky as Suede could get without provoking laughter. (Lines such as "and she make love and swallow a dove," from the same song, would be enough to do that if Anderson's commitment to redemption through trashy living ever seemed to waver.) Still, the collaboration with Osborne has produced nothing so experimental as Blur's work with William Orbit on 13, a risky album whose daring paid off enormously. Anderson's boundaries are more rigid than Blur's and, as a result, he occasionally sounds uncomfortable with anything that stretches them too much. The title track, for instance, sounds more like an unsuccessful dance remix of a Suede song than a proper Suede song, and other tracks succeed in spite of Head Music's frillier touches rather than because of them. The end result may be the least consistent album in a career marked by consistency, but it's still remarkable and well-represented by the grandiose pop of "Electricity," "She's In Fashion," and "He's Gone," which do sound like proper Suede songs. Maybe some formulas, however predictable, are best left untouched. They've gotten Suede this far, after all.

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