While the first book was all seedy specifics and bone-dry prose, this one is vaguer with the details and more extravagantly written. That’s in keeping with the period it describes, when the drugs did their thing and Anderson’s ego was at its most inflated. To his credit, he pricks that ego, telling a string of stories against himself. There’s the Scottish spectator who roars “effete southern wankers”, and the woman who catches Anderson’s eye at a bar and asks: “You’re the singer from Suede, aren’t you? I think your band are shit.”... At least he is aware of his excesses, worrying about sounding “pompous” or “a bit sixth form”. He even has a pop at his own lyrics, implying that all one needs to write a Suede song are a few stock phrases such as “nuclear skies” and “pigs by motorways”. True to his word, this is another music book that steers away from the expected. Like Anderson it can be pretentious, but it has a brazen confidence and it’s rarely dull. As such, Afternoons With the Blinds Down is a worthy successor to Coal Black Mornings. I look forward to the third instalment, in which Anderson hits middle age, which will surely be called Evenings Under the Electric Blanket..
When your life has been as well-documented as Anderson’s, this is tricky territory for a memoir. We diehard Suede fans want to know about the blood and guts and glory of the Britpop years, his loathing of Damon Albarn, his terrible rift with guitarist Bernard Butler and his vertiginous descent into heavy drug use. Does this second memoir deliver? Not entirely. But it’s still a brilliant read... What really makes this book great, though, is Anderson’s fiercely honest, often lacerating self-reflection, and his incredible talent as a writer and poet. Forget sensational revelations, this is a flawed but compelling read from one of the greatest artists of our time.
There’s no escaping all this in the time frame covered by his second memoir, yet, as with Coal Black Mornings, Anderson strips out insulating layers of mythology to reach something that feels touchingly real. This is no Hammer of the Gods-style exposé of life on tour: there’s a brief mention of passing out in a Stockholm toilet and “dalliances with kitten-eyed foreign women”, but he says he promised himself he would never write about “that kind of thing”. (Perhaps concerned that musicians risk not being taken seriously as authors, Anderson does, charmingly, sometimes write like a neurasthenic Edwardian schoolmaster, name-checking Heraclitus and worrying about catching pleurisy.)... The book ends bleakly with the disappointing A New Morning (2002) and the decision, in November 2003, to make it all stop, at least until their brilliant, balance-redressing (and happily ongoing) reunion in 2010. Writing this part of his life, Anderson was concerned he wouldn’t find the same “poetry and charm” in a successful band’s struggles as he did in the innocence of Coal Black Mornings. He needn’t have worried. It might be a dark, disordered story, but thanks to his thoughtful analysis of those wild times, Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn lets in a lot of light.
Anderson likes adjectives and detailed scene-setting; he rarely reports direct speech and doesn’t shy away from emotion. Sometimes, he can be a bit pompous, but this is undercut by his honesty when it comes to his own failings (“I oscillated between morbid self-reflection and vainglorious narcissism”), and he starts many chapters with an anecdote revealing how much Suede were disliked. There’s a really funny part where he decides to experiment with electronic music and dye his hair blond.
Afternoons, in the end, is just as personal as Coal Black Mornings. Anderson’s writing is as he is in real life: sharp, unsparing and sensitive. He understands, fully, from his own experience, how being in a rock band comes down to relationships – with the media, with fans, with drugs, success, music and, especially, with other members. This is his particular story about his particular band, but it’s not a solo project. It’s about how he felt about and dealt with everyone else around him, and how the consequences changed his life.
Anderson writes with a combination of guarded introspection and detachment that will be familiar to readers of the earlier book. In many ways he has stayed true to his promise: this is not a tale of glamour and stardom, of backstage shenanigans and adoring fans. The author is less concerned with the events themselves than with the atmosphere that produced them, what he refers to as “the machinery that whirrs away, often unseen … to create the bands that people hear”... Afternoons With the Blinds Drawn is most memorable for its mood. Anderson may be no “visionary” but he is gifted at creating worlds. Here, he conjures a cracked and confused persona, fumbling his way through a bizarre early adulthood, by turns gleefully hedonistic and wantonly self-destructive, hardworking and profligate, egotistical and insecure, a character more likely to be seen shuffling around in a dressing-grown smoking fags and staring out the window than prancing on the stage.