Sleeper get caught in a moment


Clever, funny and charming, Sleeper added some much-needed cheek to the UK pop scene.

by Allen Therisa in Rock & Pop

Still cool after all these years
Still cool after all these years

One of the wonder bands of the Britpop era (that feels now like it never was), Sleeper, like Blondie before it in a similarly exciting time that faded to nothing (New Wave), seemed to be here for about 30 seconds and then was too quickly gone, before doing the decent thing and reforming in 2017.

And just like Blondie, when the dust had settled on the band Version I, and Sleeper's key players moved on with their lives (before coming back together again for Version II), everyone seemed to blame the lead singer for their demise.

Because she was a girl.

Which she was.

And now, in 2021, she's a woman and occasionally writes fiction for children and sometimes pops up on - God help us - Radio 4, and she seems happy with her lot. Louise Wener is also a mother, as well as an author. She retains the generally positive and sunny demeanour that made her a prime target in the pseudo-slanging match that the late 90s musical moment descended into.

By then of course it was all Blur and Oasis, drugs and money, and lots and lots of lovely booze, even though the excitement was already turning just a bit sour. Brave new mornings and all that, until soldiers started dying under the Iraqi sun. The British part of the world was a much more innocent, less cynical place in 1995, pre-Iraq, post-Labour politics and before 9/11. The charm of Sleeper - of Wener, Maclure, Stewart and Osman (and, for a while, yanking the levers in the background, the "I made this" genius that is, Stephen Street) - was that they fitted that mood of perky, bouncy optimism perfectly.

And nothing was more cheery than Sleeper's deserved moment in the sun that was The It Girl album, a sort of pop promenade around the charts, with Wener twirling the umbrella, winking at all the boys. The It Girl was a high point for the band, between the "promising" Vegas and the (not so promising) Pleased To Meet You.

High points, low points

After Pleased To Meet You, for a while, nobody it seemed wanted to see or hear of Sleeper again. Before it, it seemed the world could be theirs on the back of The It Girl's single releases; Sale of the Century (fab), Nice Guy Eddie (even fabber), Statuesque ("Here's one we knocked off earlier - You're welcome") and the song that would come to haunt a generation and remind it of better times, What Do I Do Now?

What Do I Do Now? is almost novelesque in its tale of wonky and woozy scrambling after love and affection, told, perhaps surprisingly, from an absolute female perspective. What Do I Do Now? is also a bit like listening to your sister talking to her friends, with its cryptic and at times bitchy observations on woman, man; woman and man; woman away from man. It's the kind of thing men hate listening to when the claustrophobia starts to bite, and which they cannot, even though they would never admit it, live without.

It is also a funny song, streaked with a very English pessimism and utterly unglamorous depiction of crumbling relationships and missed communications: "Now I'd like to call you but I feel too awkward/some things need explaining/no-one told me it was raining."

It's miserable, but at the same time, you've got to laugh.

And quite right too.

The song eventually reached Number 14 in the UK singles chart, hung around a bit, and then skipped away, leaving those who had heard it once to hum its sing-along chorus forever. It's a simple song, adult and knowing, and so seemingly light in its concoction that it seemed to promise a lifetime of Supa Dupa Sleeper ditties and pleasures of a similar ilk.

Which sadly could not have been further from the truth.

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