March 6, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Sleeper

I'm a sucker for a pretty girl. I can't resist 'em, especially if they're fronting a band. So, along comes Sleeper, the first female fronted Britpop band to hit it big. Yup, even before Elastica technically there was Sleeper, even if only by a matter of months. No matter, it was hard for Sleeper to compete with the marketing and publicity juggernaut that was Elastica, hampered as they were with the Elastica's public onslaught, not to mention their own label's inability to truly capitalize on their potential . Sleeper's front woman, Louise Wener herself wrote about this at length in a memorable way.
It's fair to assume, as I did then, that an organisation dedicated to the purpose of selling records might exhibit some skills relevant to that purpose. The shock from which you never quite recover is discovering that record companies have no skills at all. They stumble around repeating the same three tricks over and over again. Everything moves forward on the basis of blind luck and muddled thinking. Perhaps in an effort to distract me from this fact, an executive from our record label escorted me directly from the record signing to the stall of a sour-smelling urinal and offered me my first line of cocaine. It made no difference. I already knew that I'd made a mistake.
Of course, all of that makes it sound like no one ever heard them, which is far from the case ... at least in the UK. Sleeper had three UK top 10 albums, and a string of charting singles that were also included in movie soundtracks such as "Trainspotting." But the big lights of Britpop fame were pretty well dominated by the boy bands, and by Elastica - fronted by Justine Frischmann. Apparently, and sadly, there was only room in the Britpop pantheon for one woman to stand out. There's a lot to say that it should have been Wener.

No matter, Sleeper produced some fantastic music. While many point to their sophmore release "It Girl" as their high-water mark, I disagree and say that by far their best stuff is on their debut full-length player "Smart". The songs are sharp. The chords all reverberate with a purposeful resonance that was at odds with the tail end of the grunge era, and helped to plot a road map for later bands to follow. Early songs like "Twisted", "Inbetweener" and the lyrically brilliant "Swallow" were the shining lights of the Britpop path for the rest of the decade. And later songs like "What Do I Do Now?" and "Sale of the Century" moved the genre along in a pop avenue, but still with the power pop foundation that always underlay the best of the Britpop outlings.

The song here, "Bedhead", happens to be my favorite. It's got all the drive and tension that Sleeper was so easily able to capture in sound. The guitars march along proudly in time with the drums, and Wener's vocals almost float across the top of the music. At least until it comes to those points where she exclamate's the music to a perfect point. It's a beautiful bit of punk, via Britpop. And one that any good mod should stand up and salute upon hearing. [updated 2021]

Sleeper - Bedhead (Peel Session, 25th October 1994) Sleeper Interview Part 2