Review: Sleeper, at the Roundhouse

Lousie Wener takes the time machine back to 1996

Thursday, 12th May — By Richard Osley

Sleeper

****

FOR anybody who dreads the words, ‘and now we’re going to play some of the new stuff,’ this was a delight. A night to close your eyes and simple enjoy a quantum leap back to 1996 to the core of what we are all legally obliged to call Britpop, even if that term grows cheesier by the year.

Hang on, I can think of a worse one: Cool Britannia. If I was Louise Wener I would be ruthing up my lunch if someone ever associated me with such a label.

But whatever you call it, the 1990s was a time when we finally stopped accepting the synthetic sounds of the 1980s, and keytars I suppose. People actually picked up a guitar again and boshed out a melody.

Sleeper did just that, and it was joy to find them keeping it simple and playing The It Girl as a 25th anniversary celebration, the album which way back when kept Wener on the front of Melody Maker each issue and being interviewed in a gunky way by a hypnotised Chris Evans at his TFI Friday desk.

The era has been affectionately romanticised as a time where we all felt we could do anything – and it’s true generally life was better without mobile phones, social media and Chelsea football club – but Wener has spent half a century reflecting on all the coquettish photos shoots she was asked to do and answering what it was like to be voted 37th or maybe the 36th sexiest woman in the world by FHM. It was a ‘lads… mag’, m’lud.

And the wine lodge lads will say well it didn’t do her any harm did it, but the band are hopefully seen as more than an indie teen’s fantasy these days.

It certainly all seemed a long time ago on Friday night as queues of baldies and women feeling uncomfortable in the denim jackets they used to wear filed into the Roundhouse to recreate what they used to do in smaller, sweatier Camden venues.

It’s a shame the grand venue in Chalk Farm Road was rescued too late for the indie heights; it would surely have hosted some *quote mark gesture* seminal gigs. Oasis, Blur and maybe even Sleeper – hey, but not Menswear – if it had been restored ten years earlier.

Wener showed she was always more than the girl in the photograph and has gone onto write well-received novels and talk more thoughtfully about the 1990s than most of the others that were there at the time. And she was an engaging host on Friday, guiding us through backroom stories about how the album came together in between songs and showing her own creased vinyl copy.

In those days, bands needed a whole album of decent gear and could benefit by harvesting four singles to sell in Our Price and Woolworths. This meant every tune played was a memory. What Do I Do Know?, the achy break up zapper, still sounded like Wener was wondering if she’d ever be given an answer, while the radio classic Sale of the Century rattled by too quickly. They could’ve played it twice and we wouldn’t have minded.

There’s a reason why songs of the time are still on the airwaves and have lasted longer in the mind than some of the poppier dross that came after. Sleeper have grown older with their own lyrics without feeling stale. You could introduce somebody born in the 2000s to their music without being cursed.

The album was all played in about an hour; it was cute to be reminded of the slot-finding guitar of Nice Guy Eddie.

An encore brought back Inbetweener from the first album, Smart, and a shipshape version of Blondie’s Atomic, as used on the Trainspotting soundtrack. Wener still seemed to enjoy every note as much as us, comfortable in her own skin and cool Mum disco skirt.

And then it was done, and time to head home and dig out own our compact discs of The It Girl.

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