With a number one single, a new album looming and a nationwide tour about to begin it seemed like a good time to take a look back over the musical delights of Sleeper and present, for the faithful and the uninitiated alike, a guide to the very best they have to offer.
Alice in Vain – 1993
Sleeper have always been more than just a Britpop band.
Some of the bands I love the most from the nineties were only, and remain only, Britpop bands…slight, throwaway, bandwagon jumpers. I’m naming no names so don’t ask me to.
In the case of Sleeper though there was always something deeper, occasionally darker, delightfully different and even, at times, a bit demented. They were more thoughtful, more erudite, more playful, more, dare we say it, intelligent (in all sorts of ways) than many of their peers.
“Alice in Vain” was the first track on their first release on Indolent in 1993. It was a blistering, Pixies fuelled, lyrical and musical assault. A deliberate, defiant, punch in the face from a new band with grand ambitions. No “hit me baby one more time” while dressed up as a schoolgirl for Wener and co. Instead a terrifying tale of self-harm, bullying, the ugliness of adolescence is laid before us and we are meant to…accept it, recognise it, apologise and then listen again.
Delicious – 9th May, 1994
This was the first record I bought by Sleeper.
I was studying at the University of Paisley and, thanks to the slightly monastic life of a young Mormon, I had more disposable income available to me than any of my peers…not drinking, taking drugs or buying industrial quantities of prophylactic’s to prevent the onset, or spread, of myriad venereal diseases saw me use my student loans to buy books and equipment for my course (nutter) and lots and lots of records.
That whiff of monasticism was blown clean out of my life by “Delicious”.
It started with a quote from “Get Carter” which made me feel like I was in safe hands…any band that could quote from one of my favourite movies was alright in my book.
But here that quote is followed by Louise Wener hinting that the “big man” could get back in shape by heading off to bed with someone and staying until the two of them were sore.
I had no idea what on earth you could do in bed with someone that would have such an effect on you.
Can I be honest with you?
I really wanted to know.
Can I be really honest with you?
I’d still like to know.
Inbetweener – January 9th, 1995
Best intro to a song from the Britpop era?
Don’t try to think of one you think is better…this is the best one.
It is urgent, driven, slinky, has a hint of disco and, generally, makes all those slightly lumpen “rawk” without the roll sorts of intros look…well, like lumpen “rawk” without the roll.
With it’s Lichtenstein homage front cover and lyrics of suburban boredom and “settling” this is pop as art. It is witty, laugh out loud funny and, as ever with Sleeper, clever and catchier than a cold sore at a school disco.
Vegas – March 27th, 1995
“He sings like Sinatra, with more feel”.
Any song, any band, that has a line like that is worthy of your admiration.
“Vegas” is a sad but hopeful song about dreams and opportunities…of half lives, half lived.
I’ve been to Vegas and that is what you find there behind the facade…dreams and opportunities but mostly unfulfilled alongside half alive, half real, people hoping for that one big score that will leave them loaded.
I didn’t like it.
It felt as sad as the story in this song.
Pyrotechnician – 1995
The closing track from debut album “Smart” is a live favourite and a fine example of quite why people love Sleeper so much and are celebrating their return with the sort of fevered excitement last seen when Bros announced their comeback.
Take a quick look on Twitter.
People are giddy.
Pledged your support for the new album and facing the prospect of a long, slow, process to get it back thanks to that stain in charge of Pledge? Normally that sort of thing would see people raging against the machine…and the band, as if they were somehow to blame.
Not with Sleeper.
People re-ordered before they even had the money back and offered their support and condolences to the band.
Because Sleeper write songs like “Pyrotechnician” and don’t release them as singles.
Atomic – 1996
Taken from the soundtrack to a film that people, inexplicably, adore this was Wener and Co’s take on the Blondie classic.
Interestingly it is now a Sleeper classic.
Never released as a single, for reasons as inexplicable as the love for that film, this would have guaranteed the band a number one record.
It still could.
If you are all very good boys and girls then Louise may play it on the tour this month and, if she does, the entire venue will be thrust into the sort of orgy of dancing, laughing, singing and adoration that is normally reserved for…actually, I can’t think of anything else that has the same impact on a crowd.
What Do I Do Now? – September 25th, 1996
A song you can dance to and cry to…sometimes at the same time.
“I’ll miss you, every day of your life…you’ll feel it too, you’re not that strong, you know I’m onto you.”
“He goes to bed, dreaming of her on his own”
Grief is right I think.
The death of love.
Sleeper are one of those bands who can lure you into a world of heartache and pain without your even realising that’s where they have taken you…dressing up the sadness that lies within so many of their songs with the sort of melodies, hooks and riffs that Berry Gordy would have sold the souls of the Funk Brothers for.
Here is Elvis Costello covering “What do I do Now?”…because it’s lovely…
Statuesque – September, 1996
At the start of this song Louise Wener sings the following line;
“We should spend the night in a small hotel like this…”
In the video she gives a coy glance to her right at the exact moment she sings it and, in one line and one look she reveals everything brilliant about Sleeper; it is a bit sexy, a lot funny and utterly knowing…it’s ace, take a look…
It’s worth noting too that in 1996 it wasn’t physically possible to move on the dancefloor of any indie disco without bumping into fourteen girls with that haircut and that wardrobe.
Look at you Now – 2018
21 years after their last single, 1997’s “Romeo Me”, Sleeper returned with new music.
They had reformed to play a few gigs for the Star Shaped Festival the year before…gigs that turned into “Were you there?” events. I was there for the Glasgow event…it was, without doubt, one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.
It wasn’t that anyone had forgotten Sleeper…but I think we may have forgotten why we loved them so much.
But they were back and that was good enough.
Even if it was just for those dates.
Then news began to break of more shows and, gasp, new music.
“Look at you Now” is not only new music from Sleeper it is great new music from Sleeper. It would be great new music from anyone…and I mean anyone…it is utterly brilliant.
The Sun Also Rises – 2019
Proving that “Look at you Now” was no fluke…that it wasn’t just one song…and that the prospect of a new album (the soon to be released “The Modern Age”) was something to be genuinely excited about, “The Sun Also Rises” is, arguably, the best song the band have released to date.
What’s that mate?
“That’s a bold statement.”
Well, yes. You’re right. It is a bold statement. But I stand by it.
You can take any song from any point in the Sleeper story and “The Sun Also Rises” matches it note for note, beat for beat and groove for groove.
“Am I sure?”
I am deadly serious.
If a new band announced their arrival on the scene with a record this good the music “press” would be going into meltdown over them.
That it is Sleeper after two decades out of the studio who have produced one of the most thrilling, exciting and dizzyingly wonderful songs of the year is either a miracle or, as I suspect, a testament to a little known fact…they were always this good, it’s just that we didn’t realise it.
But we can fix that now.
See you down the front?