Sleeper are back – and there has been quite a fanfare about the reappearance of Louise Wener and co, proudly presenting their first music in 21 years.
Whether you missed them or not will probably depend on your age. Those of us north of 30 with an interest in pop music will remember their successful formula of pop-rock nuggets, laced with a healthy edge of attitude. Inbetweener, Vegas, What Do I Do Now? and Sale Of The Century are just a few examples, all polished and memorable tunes topped by Wener’s breathy vocals. When the band split in 1998 she turned to the written form, finding success as a novelist with four works.
Yet here they are again. Although Wener once declared the reformation would never happen, it seems they couldn’t resist. Musically they have picked up where they left off, with three of the four original members reunited along with producer Stephen Street. As The Modern Age kicks into gear it’s like they’ve never been away. But does that mean British pop has been treading water for two decades? Not entirely, because the lyrics – always a strong point of a Sleeper song – are relevant to today’s experiences.
“We have no regrets, we only have debts and destinations,” declares Wener on the excellent Dig, whereas on the title track she muses on modern love, and how “sometimes it’s a cradle, sometimes it’s a cage”. Look At You Now takes a darker turn, looking at recent fallen rock stars as Wener sings, “I don’t wanna play your song, I don’t want those heroes”.
She sounds more at ease in her delivery, and the knowhow is natural. On occasion with their less successful single releases you felt Sleeper were trying a bit too hard, but here it is refreshingly instinctive. The addition of more power to the lower end is very welcome too. Kieron Pepper, new to the bass guitar role, adds an extra-lithe dimension to The Sun Also Rises. Spacey keyboards pop in to dress Car Into The Sea and the cooing of the closing track Big Black Sun.
Look At You Now is the obvious flagbearer for the band’s return. It’s a terrific single, but as the album progresses several songs step up to its flanks. More Than I Do is has a good dose of attitude and grows into its feverish guitar solo. As the album progresses there are a couple of less direct hooks, but tunes like Cellophane or Blue Like You remain engaging and fun at the very least.
Listening to Sleeper’s return is reassuring on several levels. For one thing it is good to be reminded Britpop wasn’t all about groups of white men revisiting their favourite moments from the 1960s and 1970s. Its best moments have lasted – including those of Louise Wener and her clan, who now have new memories to add to the collection. Will they push on and add to their discography? If they do, they could be even better this time around.