Shiiine On

Sleeper - The Modern Age

When Sleeper bowed out in 1998, it was with huge amount of integrity and credibility. Feeling the creative well had dried up, and not willing to flog a dead horse, they said an emotional farewell at Brixton Academy.

However, with the kids reaching their teens, and the loss of someone close to front-woman Louise Wener, the itch to take risks came to the fore. Calling in their unofficial member Stephen Street to helm the studio once more, they set off to Metway Studios. Would they roll a 6?

Despite fan affection for their third album ‘Pleased To Meet You’, their ability to be musically and lyrically incisive as they were on the classics ‘The IT Girl’ and ‘Smart’ was fading.  ‘The Modern Age’ however, sees Wener rediscover her razor sharp observations. ‘Look At You Now’, neatly signifies the times and their lack of reason “I hear your anger and howls of hate / With so little reason wit so little faith”.

Musically, there is much to cling to for long-time fans. Jon Stewart has found his inner Graham Coxon on opener ‘Paradise Waiting’ and ‘Cellophane’ and, on ‘Blue Like You’, there is an element of Teenage Fanclub glorious rumbling away. It’s the introduction of synths and psyche at various points which keeps everything fresh. The production on ‘Look At You Now’ adds a devilment to this sexy Pixies-esque anthem.

The real progress though, is made on ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and title track ‘The Modern Age’. The former, adopts the swirling spirit of Reverend and The Makers ‘Silence Is Talking’. As the cheery haziness unfurls, a new Sleeper is born. A sexier, wiser and more psychedelic Sleeper!

On the title track, Wener takes her song writing to the next level. She always had Weller and Davies’ ability to create uniquely British characters. This is on display yet again but, here, the emotion is ramped up to the max. Seemingly about the close friend she lost, an aching beauty unfolds as our fleeting existence materialises. The inner torment this must’ve taken to convey so elegantly and, in such a happy sounding song is reminder of music’s power. Listen to this song a 100 times, you’ll feel something different every time.

At every turn on ‘The Modern Age’, Sleeper have added something to their armoury. The guitars are beefier, the synths crisp and the psyche new. For all the charm they carried in the 90s, they are no-one’s understudy’s anymore. This feels like the record they were born to make.

Embrace: The Roundhouse, London

For some bands, anniversary album gigs serve merely as financial gain and play on people's nostalgia. However, there are exceptions, where the pure spirits of rock n roll find a new lease of life. Primal Scream's re-imagining of 'Screamadelica', eight years on is still the benchmark. Incorporating the best pieces of club culture post '91 into an album set that launched a lot of them, it was a revolving door of Balearic fantasy wonderland past and present.

This past Friday night, Embrace played to a sold out Roundhouse in Camden to mark the 21st birthday of their debut 'The Good Will Out'. Now, they may not have pushed the boundaries like the Primals, but, there was a humility and a connection with flowing from stage to crowd and back again that few have achieved.

This connection reached its summit at the albums mid-point. 'Higher Sights' and 'Retread', are often overlooked for their albums opening three anthems 'All You Good Good People, 'My Weakness Is None Of Your Business', and 'Come Back What To What You Know'. On this night though, it's clear, Embrace fans have all been living similar lives. Such is there power to evoke memories of heartache and find inspiration to carry on, they serve as collective comfort blanket.

Danny McNamara is like a man possessed singing “Will you fight? / Let's see you fight”. There is power oozing from him rarely seen in front men, especially ones so successful. He still has that “one of you” tag about him. Humble and appreciative to the plight of the crowd, he carries everyone along with him to another plain.

Another of the overlooked numbers for live sets is 'That's All Changed Forever'. When you have classics like 'Fireworks' and 'Good Will Out' in your armoury, there can be no complaints for not seeing it on stage. On a night when people are inevitably looking back to the the late 90s, its sentiment carries extra poignancy. It could have only been written by those in the throws of youth. Pleading and defiant simultaneously, this tale of “you'll see” post break up is undoubtedly invoking that first love or the one that got away. It's even harder not to raise a wry smile at almost vengeful last line “Cause you don't know better than me”. We probably didn't.

The credibility Embrace carried through the set was largely due to their two quality albums since their re-emergence in 2014. They didn't need tonight, financially or critically. Danny's reaction to 'Retread; was “oh I forgot how much I like this one”. Despite being key to their success, it was though he won the lottery and got to front Embrace tonight.

Cellar Doors - Cellar Doors

San Francisco trio Cellar Doors release their self-titled debut album via the Spiritual Pyjamas label on the 15th February. They've played limited shows in the UK but, on this showing, like Melbourne's DMA's, its set to become their spiritual home.

In the digital age, the concept of the killer opening track has dissipated some what. Cellar Doors have revoked this notion on 'City Girl'. Combining Krautrock and the aggression of Kasabian's debut album, they have delivered a truly death defying piece rock n roll. Young listeners will see this as their moment, their release from boredom. Older rock n rollers, inevitably will be closing their eyes and reminiscing of their first summer of discovery to this hazy anthem.

They say timing is everything and, as Sex Education grips the world on Netflix, Cellar Doors coming of age debut appears right on cue. The danger of 'City Girl' conjures up images of Mauve's middle finger salute and the Velvet Underground tones of 'Pale Blue' should have sound tracked the Otis and Eric's relationship.

'In A Dream' also has those teenage hallmarks of escape. The racing energy of the Roses on 'She Bangs The Drums' emerges alongside the motorik of Neu and the distorted bliss of Jesus and Mary Chain. For fans of Creation Records and the spirit Alan McGee, this is indeed a dream.

There are moments of sublime pop majesty. 'Prism' sees singer Sean Fitzpatrick deliver an angelic Paul Weller vocal circa 'English Rose' vocal amid an eruption of Kasabian's 'Reason Is Treason'. The sex and danger of Fitzpatrick's guitar playing on 'Sirens' should hopefully banish the banal dross of Arctic Monkeys for good and, on 'Frost', they have an anthem for the ages. Complete with Depeche Mode's darkness, Neu's motorik, and the lightness of early John Squire guitar playing, 'Frost' is a haunting psychedelic pop behemoth.

Is the music industry capable of being taken over by the sound of angry poetic young men anymore? We're about to find out.

The Real People: Star Shaped Festival, Brixton

It’s easy to see why Simon Fowler and Liam Gallagher have always cited The Real People as catalysts for their own success. Their breed of free flowing paisley psyche seeps into almost all of the great psychedelic rock n roll albums of the past 20 years in the UK.

What is harder to fathom, is why they remain outsiders in the alternative music world. As the layers of ‘She’ build towards their warped solo, whoever follows them onstage at Brixton is fucked. Luckily, it was My Life Story, there was no talent to be lost in the moment anyway.  

The Star Shaped team, on all their live events and club nights, do a great service in revitalising the spirit of the Britpop days. Truth be told, The Real People probably don’t belong both spiritually and musically. On ‘Complicated’ and ‘Dream On’, their timelessness comes gloriously to the foreground.

‘Complicated’, so effortless and striking, brings The Verve’s ‘History’ to mind with its ability to be whimsical and brutal all at once. ‘Dream On’ however, just blows Brixton Academy apart with its sweeping majesty, Neil Young and paisley guitars and emotive desperation vocal from Tony and Chris.

Be sure to catch them on their remaining 2018 dates:

Sat 6th October – The Flapper – Birmingham

Sat 17th November – The Platform – Morecambe

Sat 1st December – Leopard – Doncaster