Playing Favourites: Sleeper – The It Girl

The second in my occasional series of albums that have meant something to me.

Again these are not in-depth thoughts of a music writer. I’m not going to explore anything technical or write in the way the established music press writes about it.

The idea of these is simply to share music with people I know, or perhaps those I do not, in the hope they hear something they’ve not heard before. Maybe it’ll remind them of good times or of music they’ve forgotten.

Previously I looked at Sleeper’s first album and it seems fitting to move on to the second, The It Girl, especially with it featuring as part of #TimsTwitterListeningParty on Sunday 3rd May.


Sleeper The It Girl

Artist: Sleeper
Album: The It Girl
Year: 1996
Label: Indolent
Runtime:  45 minutes

Spotify link:  https://open.spotify.com/album/4sbWSRMEy17PagZ4u6HTx5?si=ZlkbBTIXR3ipHfY6Eqyv-A

Track Listing

  1. Lie Detector
  2. Sale Of The Century
  3. What Do I Do Now
  4. Good Luck Mr. Gorsky
  5. Feeling Peaky
  6. Shrink Wrapped
  7. Dress Like Your Mother
  8. Statuesque
  9. Glue Ears
  10. Nice Guy Eddie
  11. Stop Your Crying
  12. Factor 41
  13. Click..Off..Gone

I’ll say now this album has been a favourite since I was 16 years old in the year it was released. A former school friend of the time introduced me to them. Disappointingly, 3 years later he walked away from me mid-conversation and we never spoke again. But that didn’t change how I loved this album.

To some it probably seems odd that teenage boy would like what is basically indie pop with guitars, with a female singer, but I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. They are good songs that stay with you and Sleeper were an integral part of a wider Britpop movement. Yet sometimes I think they get forgotten, unfairly so. They are just as much the sound of 1995-1997 as Blur or Oasis or Pulp or the Charlatans.

Over the years I’ve gone away from this album and come back. And every time I come back it sounds as fresh as it did in 1996. And I always wonder why I left it so long.

It has the iconic hit anthems Sale Of The CenturyWhat Do I Do Now, and Statuesque. Yet most of the rest of the songs on the album are just as good and I wish they were as popular.

She’s got green eyes and she’s lovely
Reminds me of the ‘it’ girl with her lips

  Lie Detector

 

Stop it, you’re a grown man baby it’s just that your head’s no good.

 Lie Detector

Lie Detector is so simple yet effective, what a great opener. It’s very much a continuation of the style of Smart but perhaps evolved a bit, a sign of what’s to come.

With track 2 we get into the signature sound of the album. Sale Of The Century has the guitar and bass sound, along with the keyboards & electronic parts introduced, all hallmarks for this album. It sounds better-produced than the work on Smart and much bigger as a result. And the electronic side adds to it, it doesn’t overwhelm.

And “you said I was cheap, you were the sale of the century” is still a brilliant lyric.

Its still you –
Taking me under
We turn to be scared…
Then decide that we don’t care
Wear ourselves out on the way down

Its still you –
And the moment you left me you said I was cheap –
You were the sale of the century

Sale Of The Century

 

Two of the big singles back-to-back, two of the three (or four?) knockout songs on the album, in the sense “if you think Sleeper, you think this song”. What Do I Do Now was actually released as a single in 1995, the same year as the final single from the previous album.

It’s a great song about the impending end of a relationship that she doesn’t want to end.

What do I do now then, are we going under?
What did I do wrong? I thought we had it sorted
Is there someone else, or am I too familiar?
Was it when I said I wanted to have children?
Tore up all your photos, didn’t feel too clever
Spent the whole of Sunday sticking you together
Now I’d like to call you, but I feel too awkward
Some things need explaining
No one told me it was raining

  What Do I Do Now

 

It then moves into the somewhat odd Good Luck Mr. Gorsky which famously grew out of the story circulating in the mid-1990s, that when Neil Armstrong was a child playing in the back yard, he overheard his neighbour Mrs Gorsky say she’ll only give Mr Gorsky a blowjob when the kid next door walks on the moon. Once on the moon Neil Armstrong says ‘Good luck Mr. Gorsky’.

Unfortunately Snopes has debunked it but it’s still a funny story, probably stemming from a routine in a comedian’s act.

The next three I like but don’t have a lot to say about really. They are not filler, they’re better than a lot of people’s non-single album tracks, and help the album’s flow. Feeling Peaky has a quirky sound reminiscent of the previous year’s Blur album, The Great Escape. Shrink Wrapped starts slow-paced then gains energy. And I like Dress Like Your Mother but don’t have a lot to say about it.

Statuesque is obviously one of their big anthems. It only reached no.17 in the UK charts but I would argue it had as big effect as the other singles in that massive indie wave of the time.

We should spend the night in a small hotel like this
Drinking champagne in it
We could drive your car through the east end streets to the city
And still make a day of it
Take all I have I’ve no secrets left to steal
What would you give me for a trip behind your steering wheel

  Statuesque

 

This is followed by Glue Ears, most of which never struck me, until the last minute and a half when that that brilliant guitar riff kicks in! It stays in your head for days! So good. I don’t know how to play but it seems one of those things that’s simple but effective.

Nice Guy Eddie had decent chart success, no.10 in the UK which I definitely don’t remember, and it was played live on iconic TV show TFI Friday. My perception is the song never sank in culturally like the other big-name songs on this album, it never appears on any retrospectives and I don’t remember it getting radio play at the time and I remember being disappointed by that. If it did it would be among the indie kids, but not more widely. I may be wrong. It’s a really good indie pop song. The breathless last double verse in particular.

And I said
Hey love I’m making it easy on us
I’ll leave and a few of our dreams turn to dust
All night making love on your sofa
And it may sound funny but he wasn’t supposed to
Summer ’92 I remember it clearly
When he choked on the olive in his dry martini
There was dismay from friends he was close to
And it may sound funny but it wasn’t supposed to be

  Nice Guy Eddie

 

The final three songs are album tracks not singles. I think two of them could’ve been candidates for singles had the ones chosen as singles not been there.

Stop Your Crying could’ve been a Smart song had it been recorded a little differently. It’s a really good song about leaving someone. Reading the lyrics now as I write this gives me a whole new appreciation for it. I’m not good at listening out for lyrics and they ‘go in’ easier when I read them.

Pulled me in on a high tide
How well you hid your flipside
It won’t do to comfort you
Each time you cough or call
You think I wanted to use you
Complex issues just confuse you
You don’t care you’re unaware
How far these things can fall

  Stop Your Crying

 

I love the chorus of Factor 41.

I’m not afraid of you you’re very nice in fact
Now give me all your cigarettes
These little love attacks
Are making me feel queasy
Can’t get my heart rate down

  Factor 41

 

And it ends with Click..Off..Gone, which even though it sounds like a chilled out song which is a nice way to close an album the words are pretty sad.

Wrap-Up

I love this album. For a ’90s indie kid it is right up there with Blur, Oasis, Stereophonics, Elastica and so on. Sleeper were an important part of the resurgence of British bands in the middle-90s, the Britpop/Indie scene from 1994 to 1997. And an important British female voice in a time when it felt like most of the female voices were in RnB out of the US. But I feel those other bands get all the credit.

There are anthemic songs, there are iconic songs, there are not well known songs. I think the standard across The It Girl is higher across the board than on Smart. Some would say Inbetweener from the first album remains a higher peak. I think What Do I Do Now and Statuesque at least match it if not surpass it.

The lyrics are simple yet clever, with a hidden depth it might take a few listens to uncover. The first few times you’re busy caught in the melodies of the catchy tunes.

Is it revolutionary? Not really. What they do is effective, rock-based indie pop music. There are electronic / synth / keyboard bits which absolutely develop the sound over the previous record, but they don’t dominate, they are almost incidental yet without them something would be missing. And that’s very clever. A decade later other guitar bands would find keyboards and synths again and it would dominate their music.

A lot of the indie music of the time was not technically brilliant but it did have a particular sound and as a combined force across multiple bands it represented a generation.

I’m absolutely looking through the rose-tinted lenses of a fan of the band, of being an indie kid in 1996/1997. And there’s nothing wrong in that.

Playing Favourites: Sleeper – Smart

I am 40 this March and I hate it. But it seems like a good excuse to continue this idea of looking back at favourite albums that I started a year ago. It seems fitting to spend this year highlighting music that has got me through life so far.

In this series I’m not going to talk about sweeping themes of a record or of lyrical genius or of metaphors and similes by the artist, intended or otherwise. I’m not going to pretend this is a music snob’s analysis of guitar hooks and drum arrangements. You aren’t going to find any insightful words from me but I hope you find some songs you like that you didn’t know before.

I’ve always been someone who is taken by melody and catchy hooks rather than lyrics. Some people get lyrics and words immediately. I’m not one of those people. This is more about sharing what I like or used to like. Really this could be a series of blog posts about nice noises.

First I’ll start with Sleeper. A band that deserves a heck of a lot more recognition than they’ve got so far in the recent reminiscing and looking back at the 90s indie scene.

It was the second album, The It Girl, that got me hooked on the band before I later went back. I was never as struck with the debut Smart but it is worth revisiting.


Sleeper Smart

Artist: Sleeper
Album: Smart
Year: 1994 (on Spotify as 1995)
Label: Indolent
Runtime:  37 minutes

Spotify link:  https://open.spotify.com/album/4b6QlQpazyHULH2nmJTPcT?si=UR6rayGjR06E4BU6af1hKg

Track Listing

  1. Inbetweener
  2. Swallow
  3. Delicious
  4. Hunch
  5. Amuse
  6. Bedhead
  7. Lady Love Your Countryside
  8. Vegas
  9. Poor Flying Man
  10. Alice In Vain
  11. Twisted
  12. Pyrotechnician

‘Smart’ is their first album but historically my second favourite. Like a considerable number of people ‘The It Girl’ was my introduction to the band, but ‘Smart’ is a decent album in its own right, at least by ’90s Indie standards.

With the release of their comeback album, ‘The Modern Age’ in 2019, ‘Smart’ might even be bumped to 3rd.

A lot of it is about relationships and stuff. Actually when I was listening to it as a teenager in the late 90s I didn’t connect to that at all and just picked out some good lines here and there. Now I’m older the theme is obvious and actually it stands out as a much better album, as a whole listen, as a result.

Inbetweener was the breakout hit for the band and is of course a ’90s classic. I don’t think they had another hit from this album though and that’s a shame.

Of course it is mid-’90s indie so the production is dated now, on the other hand in my head it is still the late-’90s, so that’s fine.

Swallow, Delicious and Bedhead are basic, energetic songs about… well, screwing, basically! Hunch and Amuse are slower yet reward repeated listens. I made Hunch an Earworm when I was pre-writing this post a month ago, I probably should’ve chosen Bedhead because that sticks in the mind more!

Lady Love Your Countryside is a window into the style they’d later adopt for The It Girl.

Later in the album, particular favourites are Vegas, which is probably one of the best songs on the album, and Alice In Vain.

And of course Pyrotechnician as the quirky finale.

Vegas is probably my favourite song on the album, it’s better even than Inbetweener, it’s about a guy who flies to Las Vegas to find fortune and winds up stuck there for 40 years until he finally finds success and can get free from it.

The lyrics in Vegas are the cleverest on the album to my mind. Or maybe they’re the simplest which is why I understand them.

Kiss your Bentley good bye, I’m burning it.

Is the album on heavy rotation these days? No. It hasn’t been for years. But it meant a lot to me in 1997 or so when I was 17. I firmly believe the music you like when you are 17 is the music that sticks with you through life even if your tastes change radically later, as mine have. And that’s worth a lot.

Earworms: Sleeper – Hunch

Don’t come outside with those freak show eyes
Don’t look at me with those freak show eyes

I know the song is about a later middle-aged couple. I know it’s fairly slow, not very artistically revolutionary mid-90s indie Britpop rock. I just love that chorus.

Song: “Hunch”
Artist: Sleeper
Album: Smart
Year: 1994
Label: Indolent

 

Full lyrics:

She’s so small
Tiny and crushed up
Fifty four, the size of a child

Long pale hair
Her eyes are all red
She’s got skin the colour of bread

He’s all bald
Crusty and oozing
Got six arms, lips like a frog

Great big hump
Tiny and hunched up
He can’t speak, just barks like a dog

Don’t come outside with those freak show
Eyes don’t look at me with those freak show
Eyes, I’m not like you at all

Don’t touch me
You must be crazy
I don’t like the shape that you’re in

The way you look
Reminds me of something
It’s all because you’re nothing like me

Don’t come outside with your freak show
Eyes don’t look at me with those freak show
Eyes just stay inside I’ll feel safe

Don’t come outside I’ll feel safe
Don’t visit me with your freak show
I’m not like you at all

Playing Favourites: Ladytron KCRW Session

I began something of a love affair with the albums of Ladytron in 2013 and have been playing them relentlessly ever since.

I’d previously heard ‘He Took Her To A Movie’ on a Lamacq Evening Session, donkey’s years ago, circa 2001, and of course it wasn’t long later ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ was so big. Quite why it took me a decade to fall into them properly will remain a mystery. And it just so happened that the timing of my fandom fell in the early part of an 8 year barren spell for albums, ‘Gravity The Seducer’ of 2011 being the last release until this year’s eponymous ‘Ladytron’. Typically me to find them just as they go dark. But it was a good chance to play their old stuff over and over and get into the back catalogue without the distraction of new stuff.

In 2009 they visited the US radio station KCRW for a live set during the promotion of that year’s album ‘Velocifero’. I discovered this many years later while in a YouTube rabbit hole. For some reason the official channel doesn’t have it, but this channel does.

And while I don’t listen to a lot of their live output, some of the versions here are the best I’ve ever heard. Discotraxx in particular.

Perhaps this set is a more accessible way to get into them than their albums, particularly some of the earlier albums have tracks that really aren’t all that accessible. Perhaps the occasional song in Bulgarian doesn’t help! The hooks, though…

And I just like watching how they do their thing live. It helps that this set contains some of my favourite songs.

Anyway, this is a band that really ought to be more in the popular consciousness than they are, beyond niche or specialist stations. I imagine they’ve influenced a great many artists who are. Give it a whirl.

Set:
1. Tomorrow
2. Destroy Everything You Touch
3. Soft Power
4. Black Cat
6. Discotraxx
7. Versus
8. Runaway