Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sleeper

If You Are But a Dream, I Hope I Never Wake Up

No one reads my other blog, Media Maxi-Pad, so I'm reposting this here...

Smart (1995)
Arista Records


The It Girl (1996)
Arista Records


Pleased To Meet You (1997)
BMG Records


I'm late to the party, not discovering Sleeper until I picked up a sampler CD for Rhino's 4-CD Brit Box compilation of late '80s to '90s Britpop indie shoegazer bands at a neighborhood yard sale around the corner. One of my favorite tracks on it was "Sale of the Century" by the hitherto unknown Sleeper. Investigating further, I learned that they had eight UK Top 40 hit singles and three UK Top 10 hit albums but only made a blip on the stateside music radar when they covered Blondies' "Atomic" on the Trainspotting soundtrack (after Blondie refused to allow their version to be used). I saw that movie, but still no recognition, so I found their first two albums on eBAY and picked them up for the ridiculously low price of no more than $2 or $3 each - including postage! (They also recorded a third LP, 1997's Please To Meet You, but I haven't picked that up yet.)

I'm here to report that if you liked Elastica, you'll love Sleeper. In fact, you won't be blamed if you listen to "Inbetweener" and swear it's an Elastica tune. Elastica was three girls and a guy, while Sleeper was three guys and a girl (a polarity kind of like, locally, Baltimore's Thee Katatonix and D.C.'s The Pin-Ups - but with talent!). But both bands were fronted by talented femme chanteuses. Everyone knows Elastica's Justine Frischmann, who was not only the front femme for Elastica but also famously dated both Suede's Brett Anderson and Blur's Damon Alburn. But you've probably never heard of Sleeper's Louise Wener, who these days makes her living as a (quite popular) novelist.


Louise Wener: A Stunner and a Strummer

But if you like the '90s Britpop sound of Blur, Oasis, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Pulp, Echobelly, et al, you should really like Sleeper. (BTW, Sleeper opened for Blur during the 1995 Parklife tour.)

Though 1995's Smart sold over 100,000 copies and included the early indie singles "Delicious" and "Swallow" - and the later high-placing "Inbetweener" (#16 UK Charts) and "Vegas" (#33, featuring Blur's Graham Coxhon on saxophone - and a personal fave with its line about "he lives in a flat, islands of crap" that reminds me of my own dense domicile) and the early Nirvana/grunge-influenced "Alice In Vain" - the next year's platinum-selling sophomore effort The It Girl represents the band's best work, with their guitar-driven sound augmented by tastefully restrained synth and keyboard accents. Produced by Stephen Street (famous for his work with The Smiths, Morrissey and Blur) it included the standout "Sale of the Century" (which was their biggest single success at #10 on the UK charts) as well as "Nice Guy Eddie" (also #10 UK Charts), "What Do I Do Now?", the snarky "Lie Detector" (from whence comes the Clara Bow "It Girl" reference that the album takes it title from), "Statuesque" (another Trainspotting soundtrack song; it's included on the Trainspotting #2 CD) - and the wonderful "Stop Your Crying." The difference between Smart and The It Girl is comparable to the change between Oasis' Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory? A clear jump.

According to Wikipedia, singer/guitarist Louise Wener, like Justine Frischmann, was one of Britpop's biggest female stars, placing highly in Melody Maker's and NME's "Sexiest Woman" polls several years running. The other band members - the so-called "Sleeperblokes" - were guitarist/keyboardist Jon Stewart, bassist Diid Osman and drummer Andy Maclure. Sideman John Green also played keys/synth for the band live and in studio. Wener and Stewart met in while living in Manchester, adding the rhythm section when Sleeper relocated to London in the early '90s.


Louise and the Sleeperblokes

By the way, Wener was born in Ilford, East London, and thus is a fan of the football team West Ham United.

Sleeper released its third album, the string- and horn-laden over-production Pleased To Meet You in September 1997, but the album's first single "She's a Good Girl" tanked on the charts and the end was nigh. In his definitive chronicle Britpop!: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock (2004), author John Harris quotes Wener's reaction to the single's failure: "I knew we were as good as done for. I can remember walking down Oxford Street, looking at everyone, thinking, 'I'm back in the throng.' I had no illusions that anything else was going to happen. We did TFI Friday that week, when we knew for sure, and I was drinking from midday onwards...I was in the men's loo of this curry house, just lying down, puking. There I was, knowing my whole career was over."


A novel approach to post-rock stardom

Sleeper split up in 1998, right around the time Britpop waned as a musical genre ("It happened to us and we thought we'd be the only ones," Wener recalled, "But then everyone started to go, so that was kind of satisfying."). Wener then began her 'second act' in showbiz, re-inventing herself as a novelist. Wener has written four novels: Goodnight Steve McQueen, The Big Blind (retitled The Perfect Play), The Half Life of Stars and Worldwide Adventures In Love. According to Wikipedia, she also teaches poker courses(!) and is in a new band called Huge Advance with partner Andy Maclure.



Wener can also be seen as an interviewee in the 2003 Britpop documentary Live Forever though, regretably, her own band isn't covered (while, aggravatingly, the decidely non-Britpop Massive Attack is! I mean, Britpop was about guitars and Massive Attack is not about guitars! Ack!)


Louise Wener in LIVE FOREVER

Sleeper is a band that more than lived up to its name, flying well under the radar and being criminally neglected despite its solid contribution to a defining British musical genre of the early to mid-'90s. So wake up Britpop fans and seek these albums out!

Sleeper Singles & EPs:

There's a lot of them. To purchase, see Matt's CD Singles.


Alice In Vain EP, November 1993


Swallow, February 1994


Delicious, May 1994


Inbetweener, January 1995


Vegas, March 1995


What Do I Do Now, September 1995


Sale of the Century, April 1996


Nice Guy Eddie, July 1996


Statuesque, September 1996


She's a Good Girl, December 1996

Watch Sleeper:

"Inbetweener" and "What Do I Do Now" live:


"Nice Guy Eddie" video:


"Sale of the Century" Video:


"What Do I Do Now" music video:


"Delicious" and "Little Annie" from Glastonbury 95:


Louise Wener Sings Marc Bolan's "Life's A Gas" on TFI Friday:


Related links:
Sleeper (Wikipedia)
Sleeper Bio (All Music Guide)
Sleeper Timeline
Sleeper post - "Because Midway Still Aren't Coming Back" blog
Louise Wener (Wikpedia)
"My Life As a Pop Star" by Louis Wener
Louis Wener's Novels -Fantastic Fiction
"Delicious" music video
"Inbetweener" music video
"Nice Guy Eddie" music video
"Sale of the Century" music video

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