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Sleeper - 'The Modern Age' Album Review


1. Paradise Waiting

2. Look At You Now

3. The Sun Also Rises

4. Dig

5. The Modern Age

6. Cellophane

7. Car Into The Sea

8. Blue Like You

9. More Than I Do

10. Big Black Sun

Sleeper enjoyed huge critical and commercial success in the mid 90s where their music was characterized by astute, observational lyrics and big, hook driven melodies, typified by their most recognisable single, 'Inbetweener'. Louise Wener was an iconic front-person, heading up a movement that brought women center stage in guitar music. Sleeper split In 1998 and walked purposely away from the limelight. Wener carved out a career as a successful novelist. Drummer Andy Maclure and John Stewart, Sleeper’s guitarist, both became lecturers in music studies. Roll forward 21 years and the once darlings of the Indie scene will be releasing 'The Modern Age'. They are also appearing at Cool Britannia at Knebworth in August.

The album opens with 'Paradise Waiting' which follows Sleepers previous modus operandum of fuzz, strong guitar riff and meandering hooks. It is reassuring familiar and Louise Wener's vocal has not changed. Her trademark breathy edginess is there in all its glory. This is a wise choice as they will want to retain the Sleeper faithful, but will need to draw other listeners in. The next track, which is their first single, whilst familiar, it has noticeable differences. 'Look At You Now' despite first impressions is a protest song for he politically homeless in a landscape where reasoned debate has given way to vitriol, so in this track they are in the moment and not just stuck in a 90's timewarp.

The album is full of Indie Rock standards that will please the Sleeper purists. 'Dig' is pure guitar driven Rock, with plenty of attitude and echo on lyrics. 'Cellophane' has dominant guitar riffs and very 90's percussion. 'Blue Like You' even starts with the sound of a dial up connection, which is very 90's and younger listeners may not even recognise. Having said that this is one of my favourites on the album as it has Louise at her menacing best, and seems like a modern 'Inbetweener'. Louise was at the forefront of bands that featured strong front women, such as Garbage, The Cranberries, Elastica and Skunk Anansie. Her delivery of 'I don't feel alright' has all the edginess, you would expect and the lyrics are very clever with lines like 'I wish I was someone different, somewhere different on a different day.

Whilst Sleeper have ensured that there is enough of the same on 'The Modern Age', they have also mixed it up a bit and used different styles which keeps your interest in the album. I love 'The Sun Also Rises', which is synth driven with some pretty complex layered and looped melodies. This is not just a fast guitar assault, however, a ridiculously catchy acoustic guitar takes centre stage in this multi tempo delight. The title track ' The Modern Age' again is a predominantly acoustic track. There is nice fuzz and reverb in the background, combined with bongo style percussion. Louise Lyrics give this track a 60s feel. The retrospection that results from more life experiences is in abundance in 'Car Into The Sea'. Whilst it is bouncy and makes good use of keyboards and the use of cymbals to lighten the backing music the lyrics are reminiscent. Lines like 'The clubs have all closed down, 'I love you still but life can be a bitter pill' and 'Dreams that we had turned into our Mum and Dad'. To add to the retro feel there is even a hint of the 80's in the instrumentation.

The real difference from the Sleeper of old are the closing two tracks which demonstrate the passing of the years and the reflection that you do in a stage in your life. 'More Than I Do' on the face of it seems to be a song about an amicable divorce, but the lyrics and Louise's delicious delivery show that under the surface she has very sharp barbs. There is real venom in the words as she reveals all the bitterness over the things that annoyed her in the relationship. I love this song and I am sure some people will identify with the oozing passive aggressiveness. Lines like 'I pull our wedding picture off the wall. it leaves a stain' show the intelligence behind the lyrics. The album closes with 'Big Black Sun', which is a broody number where Louise apologises to everyone, about everything. Again a song full of regret and Louise's vocal is different on this track. It is very melancholy.

On the face of it, it seems like Sleeper have never been gone and they could have filled an album with 90's style bangers, but they have been braver than that. There are enough of those on this album to please the fans from the 90's, but there are also other tracks to reel others in. There is a diversity in this album that holds your interest, and there are some great lyrics. Sleeper may have quit at their peak, but they have come back just as strong 21 years later. Louise Wener's vocal still has the power to make me adore her, and be scared witless by her in equal measure.

The Modern Age is released on March 22nd.

Review - Tony Creek

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