Monday, 17 October 2016

Sleeper's fantastic final album

Britpop revivals don't often centre on the many women involved in that mid-90s musical movement. This seems ironic as Sleeper's frontwoman, Louise Wener, famously wore a T-shirt that read: 'Another Female Fronted Band'.

This post is for anyone who doesn't take Sleeper seriously. They wrote fantastically melodic songs that stand the test of time, Louise Wener's voice is wonderfully strong, and there was that effervescence of guitars-in-the-charts, typified by those ebullient times, that hasn't been replicated since. Sleeper also wrote some tenderly sad, slowly lovely, epic ballads that really resonate even more with me today.
I've always defended Sleeper, baffled at detractors. But I never bought that third, final album - until last month. It was with a mixture of trepidation and glad, keen eye that I picked it up in Guildford Record Collector. The cautiousness was only borne of recalling the music press savaging it in reviews in the late 90s, which I'd believed. I'd always quite liked She's a Good Girl as a single, and I have it on tape somewhere. But there was a real feeling of a shift at the time, things felt a touch darker somehow. Maybe it was the serious look of Lousie Wener in the video, and the song's overall sound and mood change. I was still in my teens and I wanted the overt fun. We'd been used to the cheeky winks and knowing grins that dominated Britpop (I cringe at all that now), so this new seriousness, this maturity of sound was perhaps something I wasn't quite old enough to appreciate. I was used to instant pop, light-hearted hooks, something that inspired a bop.

I can really appreciate the shift, now. Listening, now, to Pleased To Meet You, there are still a few of the old hallmarks, like Stephen Street's chirpy, overly parpy horns and the seesaw, two-beat guitar slicing, both of which Blur also anointed their mid-period records with; plus Louise Wener singing in her wry, sly way, and all the romantic scenarios.

There's a lot more to Pleased to Meet You, though, and that's why I felt drawn to writing this blog. It's an album I'm really (pleased!) I bought. I had forgotten just how fabulously bursting with pop splendour Romeo Me, another single, was - that song is current favourite on repeat play. There are also some obviously great, pop hits like Firecracker and You Got Me, which are both sing-along perfect.

Sleeper re-enact the slow, woozy balladry of The It Girl's closing trick (Click...Off...Gone), with a slew of awe-inspiring songs at the end of their last album: Because of You (dub heavy beats, interlaced with sweet-sad strings and a really haunting vocal sweep), then there's Nothing Is Changing, which is one of those Autumnal, late-night songs that muses in dramatic melancholy. The album actually decides to end on one of their older style, all-out pop songs, with merry synths, brilliant bass, and a cracking chorus.

I can't help but feel that Sleeper - and Louise Wener as focal, vocal point - get judged far too often, and too harshly, on their more overtly (but not that frequent) 'wink and a nod' type songs - the songs about relationships that have unabashedly 'forward' choruses (how dare a girl/woman state those sorts of things and feelings!) - when the slower ballads are really quite moving, touching; incredible.

Having heard Sleeper's final album Pleased to Meet You, I feel like I really do cherish Sleeper ever more. I feel like that album pointed towards a solo career for Louise Wener - but I can't help but feel that women got fewer chances like that than the men of that indie era (maybe this will change?). It's the same with Justine Frischmann - she could have done something really cool in a solo musical guise, I'm sure. It comes to mind that maybe it was only Sophie Ellis Bextor that kept on, solo, and her band, Theaudience, were in the strange - but good - sort of lull after Britpop.

In essence: Sleeper are to be reassessed seriously, now. Reformation and a gig would be very welcome. Not only did I not get to see Sleeper live in 1995 (or 1996, or 1997, or 1998) when I was a fan, but I reckon Louise Wener ought to be recalled and influence a new generation with it. What Do I Do Now remains one of the lyrically and melodically best songs of Britpop, so I must leave you with that!

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