Sunday, May 5, 2019

Song(s) of the Day # 1,931 Sleeper

I was astonished to read on their Spotify page that Sleeper achieved eight Top Forty hit singles during the mid Nineties. Because I can only really remember one of them. Surely their definitive moment, Inbetweener which surged into the Top Twenty at the height of Brit Pop and made at least some dent on public cultural consciousness with its vision of Middle England's pebbledash driveways and underachieving suburban conformity. It had a jaunty tune after all.

So now, almost twenty five years on, Sleeper are back with a new album and have just completed a national tour. If the cry, 'by public demand' would probably be pushing it, their new record The Modern Age does at least offer the casual listener an opportunity to re-evaluate Brit Pop that particular, peculiar moment in British pop history which lies now almost a quarter century back in our rear view mirror. All our yesterdays.

Sleeper were hardly major players in the Brit Pop explosion that took place in the UK between 1994 and 1997 anyhow, more indicative of how ubiquitous the whole thing became. If they never produced a record worth considering in the same breath as Definitely Maybe, Parklife or Different Class they did spend a fair time populating the mid to lower end of the pop charts and the pages of the two British weekly music papers, and gave us Louise Wener, without whom the band would have been utterly meaningless as a pop proposition.

Wener did make some kind of a splash at the time, largely as a signifier for a specific arrivist ambition and drive to elbow your way into the mainstream spotlight which Brit Pop gave voice to. See Justine Frischmann, but also Damon Albarn, the Gallagher brothers among many, many others. Previously marginal types who might once have been more pre-occupied with their Indie Chart positions, suddenly found themselves centre stage and misbehaved accordingly. Their type had never been allowed such license before to display their manifest, naked craving for attention, chart success and the trappings of excess and consumption fame brought with it rather than purely a desire to be cool. It wasn't always pretty to behold. Wener in many respects was representative of this transition. She would never have made a good Indie star.

So what of The Modern Age all these years on? Will it encourage other bands from the first time round to reform and chance their arm again? Doubt it frankly as this is largely a retread of Sleeper's youth. They have returned twenty years on pretty much exactly the same. First and foremost it needs to be said that the record is  not remotely modern, in fact Sleeper could easily have released it note for note in 1998 a year after they split following the release of Pleased to Meet Me, their last studio album. It's very much the fully grown child of Brit Pop. In fact it's just like Mum and Dad.

Nothing necessarily wrong with that of course. Sleeper have grown up very well adjusted. In many respects they are as polar opposite to the Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine vision of the artist as poete maudit as it's possible to be. Sleeper are not artists,. They aren't poets. They are very much of this world. The world of mortgages, nine to fives, family, Sunday lunches and Sunday supplements and dull, dull afternoon and early evening television. This after all is a band who had a hit with a song called Sale of the Century.

I enjoyed The Modern Age. It has moments of vim and verve. Sleeper can put together a guitar pop song quite readily. Two of their members have held down careers as lecturers in music studies in the intervening years after all. Meanwhile Wener holds the stage as she always used to. The vision of the record is ultimately conservative. At least with a small 'c'. This won't make any end of year lists but it will offer momentary diversion and consolation for those approaching or passing fifty for whom Sleeper represent a portion of their youth. Sleeper for sleepers, they've finally have become their name. Perhaps I'm being overly harsh, like I say the record's not bad by general standards. But I can't help wondering whether this was all meant to be about rather more than just this.If this stuff should at least have the intention of making a difference.

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